Friday, December 18, 2009

2009, a Great Year for Big Bands & Large Ensembles

Part 1 of "My Favorites of 2009" included 21 solo, duo, trio or quartet CDs that are worth your attention.  This posting is dedicated to the larger group (6 or more members) recordings of the year. There was much to savor, from the high-energy burn of Darcy James Argue's Secret Society's "Infernal Machines" to the intricate arrangements and generous melodies of John Hollenbeck's Large Ensemble's "Eternal Interludes" to the classical and creative pieces that make up the Gotham Wind Symphony's "New Year, New Music."  What those 3 recording have in common is the influence of composer/arranger Bob Brookmeyer.  In fact, you can say that about Dave Rivello's "Facing The Mirror" and the Schumacher-Sanford Sound Assembly's "Edge of the Mind." Each group is different and the composers whose works are used come from varied experiences but every one of the disks is built around the "total" sound and not merely vehicles for soloists.

The SF Jazz Collective continues its impressive run of concert recordings.  The 2009 edition is dedicated to the music of McCoy Tyner and the septet (Dave Douglas, Joe Lovano, Robin Eubanks, Miguel Zenon, Renee Rosnes, Matt Penman and Eric Harland) plays with great precision, gusto and, at times, abandon.  Per usual, the program also includes original works by the members of the group and they do not disappoint.  In January 2009, I reviewed the 2008 edition, an octet (Stefon Harris on vibes) that explored the music of Wayne Shorter.  You cannot do wrong by checking out any or all of this organization's recordings. For more information, go to
Here's the rest of the list:
"From Seeds" - Michael Musillami Trio + 3 - (Play-scape Recordings)
"Cycles Suite" - Jentsch Group Large, featuring Mike Kaupa - Fleur de Son Records)
"We Take No Prisoners" - Joris Teepe Big Band -  (Challenge Records)
"Farewell Walter Dewey Redman" - Mark Masters Ensemble - (Capri Records) -  A heartfelt musical tribute to the fine tenor saxophonist notable for the impressive work of trumpeter Tim Hagans and the highly-charged alto saxophone of Oliver Lake.
"Pluto Junkyard" - Lucky 7s - (Clean Feed) - A great combination of musicians and ideas, including a smoking brass section of trumpeter Josh Berman and trombonists Jeb Bishop and Jeff Albert.
"Madeleine Dreams" - Taylor Ho Bynum & SpiderMonkey Strings - (Firehouse 12 Records) - A fine ensemble recording, featuring smart arrangements and the fascinating vocal work of Kyoko Kitamura.

"Spiritual Dimensions" - Wadada Leo Smith  - (Cunieform Records) - Actually 2 sessions, the first with a crackling quintet featuring pianist Vijay Iyer, bassist John Lindberg, and 2 great drummers, Pheroan ak Laff and Famadou Don Moye.The second disc, recorded at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, features a octet plus overdubbed guitar from Nels Cline, with several cuts using 4 guitars.  Describing the music is futile save to say it is challenging and rewarding - Smith's crisp trumpet lines are joyful and exploratory throughout.    Call it fusion, call it progressive, whatever you wish but there are moments that are pure bliss.

One correction and several additions to the first list : 1) - John Hebert's smashing debut CD, "Byzantine Monkey" (Firehouse 12) actually belongs on this page (the music features 6 musicians) and 2) - I forgot to mention Benjamim Taubkin's exciting and supple "Trio + 1" (Adventure Music) as well as the unique "Hum, Crackle & Pop" created by Digital Primitives (Hopscotch Records.)

If my count is correct, that's 36 CDs in all (between the 2 lists - can't make up mind, you say.)  As I stated before, 2009 has been a great year for listening. 

Happy Holidays to all!

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