For someone as disorganized as a human being can be, my love of large ensemble music might not make sense. Yet, I am continually blown away at how the different voices mix, how melodies are passed from section to section, and his the rhythm section is so important. It's hard not to fascinated how composers and arrangers take the sounds they hear in their head, turin them into notes, and then back into notes. It's the adding back of the human element that thrills. Modern big bands are often filled with the most talented musicians who subsume their egos for the better of their collective. Each one of the albums listed below includes songs with great solos but, for this listener, it's often the "amazing swirls of sounds" that remain long after the album is over.
Pianist, composer, and arranger Frank Carlberg released "Monk Dreams, Hallucinations and Nightmares" (Red Piano Records) early in 2017, the centennial year of Thelonious Sphere Monk's birth. The music sparkles with inventiveness, Monk melodies weaving in and out of intelligent arrangements, powerful solos on every song, etc. The album culminates with an amazing take on "'Round Midnight", an 11-minute meditation on the classic song with Kirk Knuffke's cornet in front the entire time (perhaps the finest recorded solo of a great year of solos.) Like the music that inspired it, this collection sounds fresh each time you listen.
Dedicated to his late wife, Paula Tatarunis (1962-2015), much of the music uses her poetry as a stepping stone to fascinating melodies and creative arrangements - Katz has always been influenced by Julius Hemphill and the long version of "The Red Blues/Red Blues (Live)" that closes the disk shows how that influence has evolved into Katz's "personal" sound (also features the unique voice of saxophonist Oliver Lake. Utilizing various sized ensembles as well as the expressive voice of Rebecca Shrimpton, this music is quite powerful and rewarding.
Right around Thanksgiving, I received a huge package from the University of North Texas as the program is celebrating its 70th anniversary. Slowly but surely, I am making my way through recordings that show the strength of the program's various ensembles, the different arrangers, and numerous fine young soloists. Those recordings and the one from the University of Toronto serve to remind us that jazz has not disappeared, that there are people who want to learn more and play for audiences, that if you stop worrying about the commercial intent of certain art forms, they can and will survive. .
In the final chapter of these four posts, I'll look at smaller group recordings, solo and duo albums, and more. Be well all!