Since its inception in 2007, the Lucerne Jazz Orchestra has established itself as one of Europe's most innovative ensembles operating within the contemporary big band idiom. Currently consisting of a vocalist (Karin Meier) and 17 musicians under the musical direction of David Grottschreiber, the group has consistently collaborated with fellow trailblazers and featured works by young composers dispersed throughout Europe, all in an attempt to revise and progress the very musical language from which it originated. Oaktree, the group's sixth studio album, flawlessly documents the distinctive voices that constitute its singular aesthetic through genre-crossing compositions, perceptive arranging, and rousing performances.
Grottschreiber's "Close Contact" opens the album, dynamically expanding upon a jarring theme that harkens back to post-bop of the past before giving way to atmospheric soloing. Improvisation space is evenly balanced with composed orchestration, fabricating an equilibrium that provides a complete scope of the band's capacity. After establishing superb musicianship through an expansive original, the group's aptitude for exploring realms outside of jazz is manifested through trumpeter Aurel Nowak's arrangement of the late singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley's "So Real." Their rendition evolves from a dreamlike trance initiated through a pensive trumpet-piano duet that ushers in hushed orchestration, underscoring Meier's languid phrasing during the first verse. Gradually, the dynamic range widens with elaborate musical patterns accompanying soaring vocals, culminating in a drum solo that mirrors the ferocity of the grunge-tinged guitar solo embedded in the original.
"Souvenir," composed by Matthias Spillmann, seems to defiantly follow an unfamiliar trajectory into the unknown with a serpentine melody that wallows in its disjointed state before precipitating an inspiring solo from guitarist Samuel Leipold. This phenomenon of compositions seemingly adopting a mind of their own occurs again during the Rafael Schilt-composed "Yeah Mueter." The angular phrases that pass at breakneck speed seem to exhaust themselves resulting in a hazy passage of reckless, free playing prior to recovering vigor during dexterous soloing. These are truly advanced pieces that require innovation derived from a resourceful mindset to create.
The album's centerpiece "Oaktree" (comp. Meier, arr. Grottschreiber) exhibits the ensemble's amalgamation of progressive composing with esoteric songwritinga combination that radically eschews the traditional notion of a vocalist accompanied by a big band. Written in the surrealist vein, the lyrics relay the speaker's forlorn ode to a personified oak tree. The music follows the progression of the poem, climaxing with a full-bodied lament that parallels the speaker's desperation in her last-ditch attempt to coax the tree into following her along some journey of pressing importance.
Collectively, Oaktree wholly depicts the current state of the modern big band; the LJO is actively pursuing an advancement into foreign spheres without straying too far away from the format's storied past. Given the broad aura of adventure and imagination present, it's albums like these that uphold jazz's promise of unfettered expression.
Close Contact; So Real; Souvenir; Oaktree; Yeah Muter.
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