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The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra: Trumpet Madness

Jack Bowers By

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Having listened as closely as possible to the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra's Trumpet Madness and tried my best to understand what is going on, I must confess that I am thoroughly perplexed. Either this is exceptional music that is clearly beyond my grasp, or chaotic nonsense that does nothing but reinforce the group's turgid self-image. I must leave that for other listeners to decide.

Much of the music produced here is, to me, vacuous twaddle that is one step above street noise. On the other hand, these are no doubt accomplished musicians who are not only aware of what they are doing, but apparently have an explicit purpose in mind. Surely, that purpose is not to entertain, as sitting through this is about as gladdening as a visit to the dentist's chair. But music has other aims (to soothe the savage breast, for one), and so there must be some inner method to this outward madness that simply escapes me.

I've heard Aardvark before (Duke Ellington/Sacred Music, Aardmuse 103), and that album was at least moderately absorbing—but then, the group was performing music by Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Here, the "compositions are by music director/trumpeter Mark Harvey (except for "Choices, written by trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum). To me, they consist largely of random shrieks, squawks and harsh guttural anomalies, but others may hear them quite differently. The audiences (at least two selections were recorded in concert) do applaud, so there must be something there that suited them.

Among other things, here is what Harvey has to say: "The Aardvark approach to blending the solo, collective and conducted improvisations of twenty-eight talented players has been honed over many years to a high level of intuitive and expressive virtuosity.... as your ears will soon discover, trumpet madness leads inevitably and delightfully to total Aardvark madness. Save for the word "delightfully, I can't argue with that. Madness it surely is. Whether it is pleasurable or painful lies in the ears of the listener. Mine remain bewitched, bothered and bewildered.


Track Listing: Flexology; JB

Personnel: Mark Harvey, music director, conductor, trumpet; Eric Dahlman (1), K.C. Dunbar (2-4), Taylor Ho Bynum, Greg Kelley (5-7), Jimmy Leach (1), Rajesh Mehta (5, 6), Jeanne Snodgrass, trumpet; Arni Cheatham, alto, tenor, soprano sax, flute; Peter Bloom, alto sax, flute, piccolo; Phil Scarff, tenor, soprano sax, clarinet; Will Swank (1, 2, 4), Chris Rakowski (3, 4), tenor sax; Dan Zupan (1, 2, 4), baritone, soprano sax, clarinet; Mark Messier (6, 7), baritone sax, clarinet; Jay Keyser, Jeff Marsanskis, Bob Pilkington, Russell Jewell (4), trombone; Bill Lowe, bass trombone, tuba; Dan Schaud (3), French horn; Richard Nelson, guitar; John Funkhouser (1-3), John Voigt (4), Jesse Williams (6, 7), bass; Jerry Edwards, electric bass; Harry Wellott, drums; Craig Ellis, Paul Lovens (6), percussion.

Title: Trumpet Madness | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Leo Records

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