Saturday, May 30, 2015

Large Ensembles 2015 (Part 1)

Drummer, composer and arranger Billy Mintz organized The 2 Bass Band in 1990 when he lived on the West Coast.  Even after moving back to New York City in the early 2000s, he kept the band going. Best known for his work with the Alan Broadbent Trio, the Mark Feldman-Sylvie Courvoisier Quartet, and with the Roberta Piket Trio (and many others), he's a wonderfully modern drummer in that he does not hog the spotlight but makes sure that the music comes first.

25 years after he organized the ensemble comes its first album.  "Billy Mintz: The 2 Bass Band....Live" (Thirteenth Note Records). The 9 other members includes bassists Cameron Brown and Masa Yamaguchi plus the brass section of Ron Horton (trumpet), Dave Scott (trumpet), Brian Drye (trombone) and Samuel Blaser (trombone) with the reeds of John O'Gallagher (alto and soprano saxophones), Kenny Berger (baritone and alto saxes), and Adam Kolker (tenor and soprano saxes, clarinet). Recorded live in January 2014 in the cozy confines of Ibeam Brooklyn, the recording features all Mintz originals that range from the swinging "Flight" (with an understated solo from Horton and a more playful solo from Berger on baritone following the clarinet reading of the theme) to the Ellingtonian drive of "Ghost Sanctuary" (the leader's drum work is exemplary as is the arrangement) to the bluesy Afro-jazz of "Darkland" (and the conversational work of trombonists Drye and Blaser).  The 2 bassists get their own spotlight on the appropriately-titled "Bass Thing", both soloing and working together.  O'Gallagher's expressive alto sax is out front on "The Dream" (a ballad with fine sectional writing) and reaches dizzying heights on the high-powered "Shmear."

While this is the drummer's band, Mintz rarely solos.  When he does, it's usually at the beginning of a song.  He steps off "Dit", a boppish yet "free" piece and, after the band runs through the theme, the horns and reeds plays lines that collide with each other in an appealing fashion. Mintz takes a harder approach to the opening of the final track, "Relent", his powerful figures setting the stage for the raucous opening section that follows.  The rhythm section continues the furious pace beneath Kolker's angular tenor sax solo.  Blaser lets loose with a striking solo, filled with rapid lines, a bit of multi-phonics and a bluesy feel leading into Berger's muscular baritone spotlight.

You have to listen closely to hear the 2 bassists in The Billy Mintz 2 Bass Band but, when you do, one can tell that they truly complement each other (sometimes serving as the chordal instruments in this piano-less dectet.)  What stands out most is the adventurous writing, the impressive solos, and lack of cliches in the music.  This is an ensemble one needs to hear live but, in the meantime, Mr. Mintz et al have made an excellent entrance. Let's hope we won't have to wait 25 years for the next recording.

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