The jazz octet has long been somewhat of a "Swiss Army Knife" for composer-arrangers. Consider, for example, the great Dave Pell, Ornette Coleman, David Murray, and the J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding Octets. In the hands of great arrangers, the eight-piece format allows arrangers to leverage the flexibility and creativity of a "Messengers" frontline with the total sonic impact of a classic big band.
The Next Stage from The New World Jazz Composers Octet is a superb exploration of all the possibilities the format can deliver. In a way, it is a salutary throwback. Things kick off with a burner title track which is reminiscent of the smaller ensembles of Maynard Ferguson, Shorty Rogers, and others of the early 60's. The burn rages on with the fascinatingly quirky "T and the Charles" which channels Weather Report's "Birdland," while saluting woodwind artist-arranger Jimmy Giuffre who played and wrote for the aforementioned Rogers. Check out Daniel Ian Smith's ace solo here.
Have no doubt that this is indeed an arranger-composers' album. Ted Pease, Daniel Ian Smith, Mike Abene, and Matthew Nicholl send up ten engaging originals which squeeze every ounce of "jazz juice" out of these superb players, and the gang imbibes heavily. The ensemble and solo playing on this album are outstanding. The eight swing heavy and all solos are highly inventive and dovetailed perfectly into the melodic themes.
"Funkissimo" lives up to its name melodically and rhythmically, and is a superlative platform for its fine soloists. No way parsimonious in swing, "Scrooge" is a Tom-Cat-struttin' swagger by way of Pease's pen. "Lydian Legacy Part I," dedicated to visionary composer, George Russell (he of the famous Lydian Chromatic Approach to Tonal Organization) is a harmonically sophisticated swinger. The corresponding "Lydian Legacy Part 2" cleverly takes its theme from Part 1, injects it with a Latin vibe and expands it into a cooker with fine trumpet (Nathan Kay), piano (Doug Johnson) and drum (Mark Walker) solos. The outstanding rhythm section ignites it all here and elsewhere. "Dances with Drums," offering exceptional brush and set work from Mark Walker, is about the catchiest head-tilting track since Astaire tip-toed in a tux. "Elegy for Jeff" closes the date on a slower, textural, and imaginative plane.
The Next Stage is an intelligent, involving, and enthralling listen, eight ways from Sunday or on whichever day or stage it is played.
The Next Stage; The T and the Charles - Homage to Jimmy Giuffre; Funkissimo; No Answers,
More Questions; Turnaround; Scrooge; Lydian Legacy, part one - Homage to George Russell;
Lydian Legacy, part two - Homage to George Russell; Dances with Drums; Elegy for Jeff.
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