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It is somewhat rare to encounter a brass band in modern jazz these days, but saxophonist and composer Tom Challenger's octet, Brass Mask, is an intriguing example of a brass driven band. The eclectic nature of the band is underlined by the cover of the album: Spy Boy, which suggests the contours of a man holding a saxophone surrounded by a rainbow of feathers.
The music is just as sprawling and colorful as the cover and the opening composition "Onnellinen" immediately grabs the intention with an irresistible melody with humorous saxophone hiccups and tuba-player Theon Cross getting deep into groove, while the trumpet section of Rory Simmons and Alex Bonney shine with their muted playing. Challenger has mentioned composer, saxophonist and flautist Henry Threadgill as an inspiration and his sophisticated approach to composition and improvisation looms large over the album.
The funky vibe continues on "Shallow Water," whereas "I Thank You Jesus" recalls the funeral-marches of New Orleans. The horns sway and growl in anguish, but it is nevertheless a lament imbued with vitality.
The scope of the band is impressive as they embrace the lush charts of a big band and the intimate blues of a funeral procession. It is a carnival of sounds, a Mardi Gras of music, where the scholarly approach of Challenger is felt in the diversity of sounds and musical traditions that have been taken in from around the globe. Here's anything from deep blues and gospel to polyphonic sophistication and funky African grooves. However, there isn't anything dry and academic about the music. This is music meant for the streets. Go out and a have a ball with Brass Mask.
Track Listing: Onnellinen; Shallow Water; I Thank You Jesus; Nighty Night; Francis P;
Indian Red; Rain Rain Rain; Meniscus; Wizards; Israfil; Indians; Don't Stand Up; Zubr Dubr.
Personnel: Tom Challenger: saxophone, clarinet; George Crowley: saxophone, clarinet; Dan Nicholls: bass clarinet, saxophone; Rory Simmons: trumpet; Alex Bonney: trumpet; Nathaniel Cross: trombone; Theon Cross: tuba; John Blease: drums, percussion.