Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Musicians at Play + November 1st Noah

It's been nearly 3 decades since Wayne Horvitz wrote and performed with the New York Composers Orchestra, a large ensemble that commissioned works from numerous composers (Anthony Braxton, Lenny Pickett, Butch Morris and others), playing the pieces and more in concerts around the world.

Mr. Horvitz and his wife, the composer Robin Holcomb, moved to Seattle, Washington, in the late 80's and, while he has composed for orchestras and large ensemble, his latest for Songlines Recordings "At The Reception: The Royal Room Collective Music Emsemble" is his first for a "big band" since the NYCO days. This 14-member ensemble, composed of musicians from the Pacific Northwest, may not have many recognizable names (one exception would be tenor saxophonist Skerik) but they play this music with great joy and abandon.

The all-original program, split into "Side A" (7 tracks) and "Side B" (6 tracks), opens with "A Walk In The Rain" that shows the influence of Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington, an opinion strengthened by the strong trombone solo of Naomi Siegel. The funky rhythm section - Ryan Burns (piano), Geoff Harper (bass) and Eric Eagle (drums) - keep the piece on track while the sections interact behind the combined solos of Skerik and trombonist Jacob Herring. The next 6 songs feature plenty of group interaction and very few solos, ranging from the lovely ballad "Forgiveness" (it's a treat to hear the reeds dancing around the brass figures in ways that remind this listener of the music of Ms. Holcomb) to "Daylight" with its quiet rubato opening to the sudden explosion of sound.  Again, the reeds carry the melody until they begin to furiously challenge the brass.  "Barber Shop", with its English Music Hall bouncy rhythm, replaces the Strayhorn with a blend of Ray Davies (around the time of "Village Green Preservation Society") as well as a Bavarian Gilbert & Sullivan brass section. There's a touch of Anthony Braxton and Muhal Richard Abrams' circular melodies, rhythmic variations and section interaction on "Ironbound."

"Side B" opens with "Prepaid Funeral", a swirl of horns, reeds and rhythm section sprinkled with fine solos, sounding like the work Bob Brookmeyer did with the New Art Orchestra in the first decade of the 2000s. The solos grow naturally out of the section interplay. Unlike the majority of the tracks on "Side A", most of these songs have solos.  "Sweeter Than The Day", which is also the name of a quartet Horvitz led from 1999-2008, has a melody and harmony feel of Randy Newman and Robbie Robertson - the quartet version came be heard on the group's 2002 Songlines CD (which also contains "Ironbound.") "Disingenuous Firefight" (also recorded by STTD on its 2000 debut) marries a boppish groove to a mysterious descending line while Al Keith (trumpet) and Ms. Siegel play above the band (there's a touch of Carla Bley's music in this tune). Back into an Ellington and Basie groove for the title track, which features strong solos from Steve O'Brien (trumpet), Kate Olson (soprano saxophone) and Beth Fleenor (clarinet).

"At The Reception" is a delightful large ensemble recording, depending more on Wayne Horvitz's intelligent arrangements and well-crafted songs than on solo after solo.  The section writing is truly delightful.  During his career, Wayne Horvitz has rarely stayed in the same mode for long periods of time but does like to rearrange his material for different groups. The Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble is quite a treat, not only for aficionados of his music but for fans of contemporary big band music. For more information, go to songlines.com/release/at-the-reception/ - there are even a pair of bonus tracks.

It's been nearly 15 years since pianist/composer Frank Kimbrough recorded an album as a leader that also featured a reed player (Scott Robinson appeared on 2000's "Noumena").  His 6th release (7th, if you count the digital-only reissue of "Chant") for Palmetto Records is aptly "Frank Kimbrough Quartet" and finds the pianist in the company of drummer Lewis Nash, bassist Jay Anderson and saxophonist Steve Wilson (alto and soprano) - the latter 2 musicians also play alongside Kimbrough in the Maria Schneider Orchestra. All 4 are members of Ryan Truesdell's Gil Evans Project.

Judging by the opening 2 cuts, "The Call" and "Blue Smoke", the addition of Wilson has opened up the possibilities for Kimbrough's music. Both pieces have great forward motion with the former having a strong blues feel while the latter swings with abandon. The composer's Southern roots (he was raised in North Carolina) are quite evident on "Kudzu" - Nash's work is quite "groovy" while Anderson's thick tones create a solid foundation for the soloists.

Still, there are few who play an introspective ballad as well as Kimbrough and this CD has several excellent additions to his repertoire.  "Trouble Man" (the Kurt Weill composition, not the Marvin Gaye one) is a lovely piece, framed intelligently by Nash's cymbal work and Anderson's melodic bass work. Wilson's soprano lines are filled with sweetness and a generosity which one also hears on the closing track, the Rodgers & Hart gem, "It Never Entered My Mind."  There is a bluesy touch to Wilson's lines as well as a sparkling bass solo - Kimbrough states the melody at the beginning and as the piece closes. Otherwise, his sensitive support and Nash's splendid brush work give the saxophonist and bassist wings to soar.

The Quartet jumps right into John Lewis's "Afternoon in Paris", everyone at his melodic best (yes, even Nash.)  It's fun to hear these musicians move from the solo piano introduction of the melody into the body of the piece and realize how "free" the music becomes.  Kimbrough supports the lyrical saxophone while Anderson and Nash play around beneath them. During the long piano solo, the rhythm section continues to play outside the form and, damn, if that's not exhilarating.

"Frank Kimbrough Quartet" is what one has come to expect from the pianist and more.  Melody, rhythms, group interactions, sensitive ballads, and utter joy.  The liner notes say that the CD was culled from one 6-hour session at Systems Two in Brooklyn, NY.  O, what fun they must have had! If you like music that takes chances and also soothes the soul, dig into this disk.  For more info ration, go to home.earthlink.net/~fkimbrough/.

Frank Kimbrough joins leader and saxophonist Noah Preminger, bassist Ed Howard and drummer Billy Drummond this Saturday November 1 (already!) for an 8:30 p.m. gig at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme. Young Mr. Preminger (pictured left), a CT native now living in the Boston area and in school at his alma mater The New England Conservatory, working on his Master's Degree, returns to the venue as a leader - he appeared once before as a member of the Rob Garcia 4.

Kimbrough appeared on the saxophonist's 2011 Palmetto debut, "Before the Rain" as well as 2008's "Dry Bridge Road", recorded when Preminger was in his senior year at NEC.  They work well together, knowing when to push each or when to hold back or when to lay out.  Preminger, like the pianist, is a melodic player and, as he has matured, has become an excellent soloist, neither dull nor derivative. The veteran rhythm section will not only be supportive but also knows when to light a fire and build the intensity.

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. - reservations and more information can be found thesidedoorjazz.com or by calling 860-434-0886.

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