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There is much more to Jazzlab's molten Octo Portraits than a sense that the ensemble is so finely attuned to each other as to create works of timbral excellence and nuanced textures. The outstanding voices of the individual instrumentalists are not hidden in this bubbling liquefaction, beaming radiantly through the crack in the door each time it is opened for soloingwhich is every once in awhile. The result is an enriched mixture of programmatic and improvised music of the highest order. Usually, when music like this is conceived, emotions are somewhat subdued in favor of excellence of execution. Although this is also true of Jazzlab's adventure, emotion is subtly infused in the music, not buried or surpassed by instruction on how to express the music. So it is not surprising to find, for instance, humor flying forth from Frank Lozano's soprano saxophone, or a plaintive wail from Aron Doyle's otherwise fiery trumpet.
Another memorable quality of the music is the way the compositions seem to fit like perfect skins onto the individual musicians themselves. Idiomatically speaking, each is a perfect element in the chemical reaction of burnished horns, swaggering woodwinds, rumbling bass and shimmering drums. Moreover, each piece of musicthanks to the fact that it appears written to fit musicians more than instrumentsis, as Duke Ellington would have, a magnificently concocted recipe; each is a dish cooked as if it were fit for the gods. Thus "Ouverture" sounds the way it does, more likely, because these specific instrumentalists people the ensemble that weaves the notes of each layer of counterpoint into the nextsomething that might simply not work if someone other than Lozano was blowing a high and mighty soprano, for instance. The music works definitely because of the sound palette created by the musicians for whom it was written. It is articulated almost by magical intonation and with a significant breath of mysticism by Lozano and the rest of the cast.
This is also inherent in the surreal beauty of "December Hymn," which echoes with fervent spirituality as much as it swings with abandon. Similarly, although the changes of "Tracing the Chain" are familiar, it delights in a topsy turvy world of subtle modality and breathtaking half/full choruses taken by Doyle, bassist Alain Bédard, tenor saxophonist Alexandre Côté, and the rest of the chorus.
This is an album that is also agile and fearless in its richly textured experimental tonality. It also appears that each chart is composed with a specifically featured soloist in mind. For each of the composersparticipating members of the ensembleto write with instinctive accuracy and ingenuity is a rare occurrence. It is also a sign of how exquisitely each musician is entwined with the ensemble and vice versa.
Track Listing: Ouverture; December Hymn; Tracing the Chain; Humor de la Noche; Trois Récits de Voyage; Phil's Spirit; Tibout; Mrs. BB.
Personnel: Frank Lozano: soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet; Rémi Bolduc: alto saxophone; Alexandre Côté: tenor and baritone saxophones; Aron Doyle: trumpet, flugelhorn; Richard Gagnon: trombone; John Roney: piano; Alain Bédard: bass; Isaiah Ceccarelli: drums.