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Darrell Katz and the JCA Orchestra: Why Do You Ride?

Dave Wayne By

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Why Do You Ride?, a sweeping, poly-stylistic orchestral paean to bicycling, Albert Einstein, a certain orange kitty cat, and wrongly-attributed quotes (among other diverse topics) is the 10th album by Darrell Katz and his Jazz Composers' Alliance (JCA) Orchestra, which is also celebrating its 30th year of existence. Unlike most jazz artists of his generation, Katz—an excellent guitarist and long-time faculty member at Boston's Berklee School of Music—has resolutely stuck with the big band as his primary means of musical expression. Perhaps that's why his music remains outside of the mainstream in its own quirky and individualistic way.

As with Katz' previous recordings, Why Do You Ride? has a somewhat academic, 'studied' feel to it. The musicianship is polished and damn near perfect, but not stiff or stilted. The pliable, articulate rhythm section—especially drummer Luther Gray—and the strategic presence of masterful, always-on soloists such as Bill Lowe, Allen Chase and Jim Hobbs keep the music loose and flowing. Lesser-known players such as vibraphonist Joe Doubleday, guitarist Norm Zocher and pianist Mina Cho also make good use of their relatively brief time in the improvisational spotlight.

Katz' compositions are a melting pot of diverse styles and cross-references; avant-garde classical machinations rub shoulders with passages of funky fusion, swinging Stan Kenton-esque "big band" moves, Globe Unity Orchestra- styled freakouts, and the sweetly unadorned vocal stylings of Rebecca Shrimpton. In fact, Shrimpton all but steals the show throughout Why Do You Ride?, effortlessly transforming seemingly un-singable texts and apocryphal quotes into warmly convincing jazz vocals.

Reading this review, one may get the sense that Katz' music may be too eclectic for its own good. That is not the case. Why Do You Ride? hangs together really nicely, unified both by Shrimpton's voice and Katz' unique qualities as a composer / arranger. Even the texts—at first glance a motley collection of mis- attributed, apocryphal, and some quite possibly real statements that Albert Einstein may or may not have spoken—have a cogent narrative flow. They also reveal Katz' dry, pithy sense of humor. While fans of traditional big band jazz may be perplexed or put off by the stylistic diversity of Why Do You Ride?, its varied textures and continually shifting stylistic approach may well please those more attuned to the post-modern sounds of contemporary jazz usually played by much smaller bands.

Track Listing: Why Do You Ride?; Wheelworks; SamiBadGal; Monk's Mood.

Personnel: Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra:
Mike Peipman, Forbes Ghram, Gary Bohan: tromba; Bob Pilkington, David Harris: trombone; Jim Mosher: corno francese; Bill Lowe: tuba; Alan Chase, Jim Hobbs:sax contralto; Phil Scarff : sax tenore, soprano, clarinetto; Dan Zupan: sax baritone, cl. basso; Hiro Honshuke: flauto, EWI; Mina Cho: pianoforte; Norm Zocher: chitarra; Darrell Katz: chitarra nel brano 1; John Funkhauser: basso; Joe Doubleday: vibrafono; Luther Gray: batteria; Ryan Edwards: percussioni; Rebecca Shrimpton: voce.
JCA Sax Quartet:
Jeff Hudgins, Daniel Ian Smith: sax contralto; Phil Scarff: sax tenore; Dan Bosshardt: sax baritono.

Title: Why Do You Ride? | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Leo Records

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