Friday, November 1, 2019

Large & Larger Ensemble Music Autumn 2019 (Pt 1)

Even without a new release from the Maria Schneider Orchestra (coming in 2020), 2018 and 2019 have been banner years for large ensemble music. Over the next two posts, we'll explore eight albums released in the last several months or coming out in the next few weeks.

Born in Urbana, Illinois, and raised in Milwaukee, WI, trumpeter Brian Lynch began playing at a young age and apprenticed in the band of pianist Buddy Montgomery.  Before moving to New York City from San Diego, CA, in late 1981, Lynch also played with saxophonist Charles McPherson.  Once he got to the Big Apple, he started to work in groups led by Horace Silver and Toshiko Akiyoshi and in the final edition of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers as well as spending 20+ years as a member of the Phil Woods Quintet. Lynch has a simultaneous career playing Latin Music, starting in 1982 with Angel Canales, with vocalist Hector LaVoe, and a long-standing gig with Eddie Palmieri.  He's conducted workshops throughout the world plus has been on the faculties of NYU, Long Island University, and currently serves on the faculty of the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami.

Lynch has recorded numerous albums for labels such as Criss Cross, Sharp Nine, Venus Records, Cellar Live, and since 2009, has released six albums on his own Holistic MusicWorks label.  His new albums combines his love of Latin music, big band jazz, and, especially, reading.  "The Omni-American Book Club: My Journey Through Literature In Music" (HMW) takes its name from a 1970 essay by Albert Murray (1916-2013) and features a 19-piece band plus guests (see "Personnel" below) playing nine pieces (plus two "extended version") composed and arranged by Lynch.  Each song is dedicated to two writers, activists, and/or educators – the extensive liner notes talk about each dedicatee and the particular  book or books that inspired Lynch.)

Photo: Andrea Canter
It is nearly impossible to choose which songs to focus on since each one stands out.  Drummer Dafnis Prieto is in the "driver's seat" for the opener "Crucible For Crisis" (for David Levering Lewis and W.E.B. DuBois) – the music will make you jump out of your chair (or just shake the windows of the car as you speed down the highway. There are powerful solos from Prieto, flutist "Maraca" Valle, and Lynch over the delightful rhythm section plus pay close attention to how the drummer pushes his fellow musicians to the boiling point as they bring the song to a close.  "The Trouble With Elysium" (for Naomi Klein and Mike Davis) turns the spotlight on David Liebman and his expressive soprano saxophone.  Kyle Swan is the drummer here and he keeps the rhythms percolating as does pianist Alex Brown; Liebman gets into a musical conversation with tenor saxophonist Gary Keller that nearly steals the show. Regina Carter and Lynch take the lead on "Affective Affinities" (for Ned Sublette and Eric Hobshawn), the only true ballad on the album. Especially delightful is when the two mesh their musical voices and then, as the rhythm section kicks the music up a notch or two, the violinist and trumpeter start trading quick solo lines.  As baritone saxophonist Mike Brignola leads the reeds back in, Ms. Carter flies above the band, dancing all the way.

There's so much music (nearly two hours over two CDs) on "The Omni-American Book Club", such a good ensemble, impressive writing, first-class soloists, and a reminder American music has deep roots in the numerous communities around the country and the world. The blend of blues, jazz, funk, Latin, Afro-Cuban, and more is so attractive plus the distinctive trumpet sounds and attack of Brian Lynch is powerful and so alive.  Highly recommended!!

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Here's the album opener:


Brian Lynch Leader, Trumpet, Compositions and Arrangements 

Tom Kelley: Alto Sax (lead), Soprano Sax, Flute 
David Leon: Alto Sax, Flute, Clarinet 
Gary Keller: Tenor Sax, Soprano Sax, Flute, Clarinet 
Chris Thompson-Taylor: Tenor Sax, Clarinet 
Mike Brignola: Baritone Sax, Bass Clarinet 

Dante Luciani: Lead Trombone 
Carter Key: Trombone 
Steven Robinson: Trombone 
John Kricker: Bass Trombone 

Michael Dudley: Lead Trumpet 
Jean Caze: Trumpet 
Jason Charos: Trumpet 
Alec Aldred: Trumpet 

Alex Brown: piano 
Lowell Ringel: bass 
Boris Kozlov: electric bass (three tracks) 
Kyle Swan: drums (six tracks) 
Hilario Bell: drums (four tracks) 
Murph Aucamp: percussion 
Little Johnny Rivero: percussion (two tracks)

Guest Artists:

Dafnis Prieto: drums ("Crucible for Crisis")
Orlando "Maraca" Valle: flute ("Crucible for Crisis")
Donald Harrison: alto saxophone ("The Struggle Is In Your Name" - two versions)
Regina Carter: violin ("Affective Affinities")
David Liebman: soprano saxophone ("The Trouble With Elysium")
Jim Snidero: alto saxophone ("Tribute To Blue (Mitchell)")

Saxophonist and composer Remy Le Boeuf is having a particularly productive 2019.  In May, Outside In Music issued his debut album as a leader "Light as a Word" (a quintet date) and five months (November 1), SoundSpore Records is releasing "Remy Le Boeuf's Assemble of Shadows", his first venture into large ensemble writing and arranging.  If you are a fan of Maria Schneider's elegant melodies and intellectual as well as emotional arrangements, this is an album for you.  With 18 "regular" band members plus two special guests (see "personnel" below), the music draws you in and does not let go, in fact resonates long after the final track fades away.

The seven-song program opens with two longer pieces, "Strata" and "Honeymooners" before launching into the "Assembly of Shadows Suite", a five-part, 28-minute, story in sound. When you spend time with this music, several elements stand out.  First, the melodies are excellently constructed, with themes and counterpoint shared by various members of the ensemble.  Even the "I: Introduction" to the "Assembly of Shadows Suite", which clocks in at 83 seconds, the entire band, with the exception of the drums, plays melody lines.  There are moments throughout the Suite that hearken back to the music of Aaron Copland. Like Maria Schneider's music, the solos grow out of the melody and do not overstay their welcome.  While Le Bouef is the leader, his voice is often just part of the ensemble. Play special attention to the work of guitarist Alex Goodman; note his solo on the title track and he is supported first by just the rhythm section the by the delightful splay of colors from the reeds and brass.  Trumpeter Phillip Dizack steps out of the brass section for the next solo and his clear times and well-articulated notes stay out against the background.

Make sure to pay attention to the lovely cover photo (Levi Mandel) – to these eyes and ears, it's the visual interpretation of the music.  The stunning intensity of "IV: Transfiguration", a striking piece of music, has the mood of sitting on the top of a hill and watching the sun rise.  The light tone of the leader's alto sax paired with the thicker sound of the baritone sax (Carl Maraghi) plus the section arrangements hearken back to Claude Debussy and Duke Ellington.    That mood is carries over to "V: A Light Through the Leaves" most certainly inspired by standing at a distance away from the stand of trees and watching the morning (or evening) sun move through the trees.

If you're looking for a big band "blowing" session, "Remy Le Boeuf's Assemble of Shadows" is not for you. However, if it is music with heart, soul, emotion, sensitivity, and delightful melodies, listen here.  That's not to say there aren't impressive solos (check out Le Boeuf's soprano spotlight on "Honeymooners" – don't miss the section near the end that sounds like Wayne Shorter's solo on Steely Dan's "Aja"). It's important to note that two of the three producers are composer and arranger Mike Holober plus author/Navy veteran/bassist/investment banker Kabir Sehgal (who is the co-producer of the Brian Lynch Big Band and the Samuel Torres album). Brilliant sound, brilliant music, this album will delight you over many listens.

For more information, go to

Here's the opening track:



Conductor: Gregory Robbins 
Woodwinds: Remy Le Boeuf (Alto Sax, Soprano Sax, Flute, Alto Flute), 

Anna Webber (Flute on one track), 
Ben Kono (Tenor Sax/Clarinet), 
Vito Chiavuzzo (Flute, Alto Sax), 
John Lowery (Tenor Sax/Clarinet), 
Carl Maraghi (Bari Sax/Bass Clarinet) 
Trumpets: John Lake, Tony Glausi, Philip Dizack, Matt Holman 
Trombones: Eric Miller, Natalie Cressman, Isaac Kaplan, Jennifer Wharton,  and Nick Depinna (trombone overdubs on three tracks) 
Guitar: Alex Goodman 
Piano: Martha Kato 
Bass: Matt Aronoff 
Drums: Peter Kronreif 
Percussion: James Shipp 

"Alegria" is the Spanish word for joy and happiness – it can also mean recklessness. It is also the title of the fourth album by master percussionist Samuel Torres and, judging by the music, the first two meanings are most apropos. 10 musicians, most of whom live and perform in New York City, make up the band.  Sounds like they're having the time of their lives.  Right out of the gate, "Salsa, Jazz Y Choke" dances forward on the power of Torres and drummer Pablo Bencid.  "Choke" is modern take on salsa that became famous in 2008, a mix of traditional rhythms with the more modern sound of house music and reggaeton.  The rhythm is so infectious throughout the song which features strong solos from trombonist Marshall Gilkes and pianist Luis Perdomo plus a short but powerful break from the leader.

Photo: Diego Almanza
The rhythmic adventure rarely lets up throughout the album.  "Barretto Power"; this track, a blend of Latin and "boogaloo"influences (from New York City). explodes out of the speakers with great excitement, egged on by the electric bass of Ruben Rodriguez and the two percussionists.  Ivan Renta's baritone solo is a fiery statement and Bencid's thundering drums helps take the tune out.  The one exception to the rhythmic adventures is "Bolero Para Raquel", a lovely ballad with shivering sax fills, long trumpet lines, and a handsome solo from tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm.  Back to the rhythm as the title tune bounces forward, has a hummable melody, and truly makes you want to dance.  A fleet yet sweet alto solo from Will Vinson precedes a delightfully exploratory solo from Perdomo.  The pianist feeds off the rhythm section and rolls along above the brass and reeds interjections.

The album closes with "Anga", another lively dance tune set to a fiery Afro-Cuban rhythm.  The trumpets ride above the reeds on the theme leading the way for trumpeter Alex Norris to take the first solo followed by the raucous baritone sax of Renta who trades phrases with trombonist Gilkes.  Not surprisingly, after their impassioned dialogue, the leader gets the final solo over the dancing piano and electric bass, adding a call-and-response with the brass and reeds before Torres brings the piece to a rousing close.

Looking for party music, sophisticated party music?  Enjoy lively solos amid intelligent and creative arrangements?  Grab a copy of "Alegria" and let Samuel Torres and his nine associates rock the house.  The neighbors might complain but the dancers understand!

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Michael Rodriguez + Alex Norris (trumpet, flugelhorn)
Marshall Gilkes (trombone)
Will Vinson (alto and soprano saxophones)
Joel Frahm (tenor and soprano saxophones)
Ivan Renta (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, flute)
Luis Perdomo (piano, Fender Rhodes)
Ruben Rodriguez (electric bass)
Pablo Bencid (drums)
Samuel Torres (congas, bongos, kalimba, log drum, cajon, maracas, djembes, talking drums, g├╝iro, timbal, tambourine, clave, shaker,shakes, EFX, all compositions and arrangements)

Here's the band playing the title track (recorded live this week – 10/29/19 – at Dizzy's Coca-Cola in NYC):

"Ragmala" (Meta Records/BRM) is a sprawling, entertaining, and fascinating three LPs/ two CD set that combines the talents of two large ensembles, Go: Organic Orchestra and Brooklyn Raga Massive.  The album, a hair under two hours long, is the brainchild of percussionist/conductor and composer (he composed 18 of the tracks and co-wrote the other two) Adam Rudolph. His 20-song program unites 38 musicians plus two guests to play music that peacefully obliterates the borders between American music, North and South Indian musics, and North African music. There are moments that blend sitar and tanpura (an Indian stringed instrument used to create a drone) with the driving drums of Hamid Drake plus tablas, mrdangam, and African drums.  Add to that trumpets, trombone, French horn, saxophones, bassoon, clarinet, a string section, harp, guitars, electric bass, flutes, and voice and the music suddenly becomes indescribable.  Classical? Jazz? World Music?  yes, and more.

Photo: Adrien Tillman
What Rudolph and company have created is a world symphony, one that reminds listeners the blues and jazz that grew out of New Orleans and other Southern regions as well as the Carnatic music of India have its roots in the emotional interactions of religions, worship, and families. Also, the rhythms that percolate throughout the album, whether they be thunderous drums or the flow of the voices, bring us together no matter our race, beliefs, and politics.

There are so many amazing moments on this recording, moments when the ensembles loud as if they are channeling Miles Davis music post "Bitches Brew", long, hypnotic drones interrupted by swatches of brass, reeds, violins, and drums of all shapes and sizes. There are moments that hearken back to discovering Ravi Shankar and ragas in the 1960s or Terry Riley in the 1970s. Start at the beginning of "Ragmala" and let it flow. Enjoy the interruptions when the vocal music changes the mood, when all the voices rise to a fever pitch then dissipate down to a whisper.  Kudos to Adam Rudolph who makes the collaboration come alive, offering so many possibilities for further musical and cultural opportunities. You'll not hear a large ensemble like Go: Organic Orchestra & Brooklyn Raga Massive many times in your life – this music must make for an amazing aural adventure in a concert hall.  It certainly makes for a fascinating album/ CD experience.

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Jay Ghandi - bansuri 
Arun Ramamurthy - violin 
Trina Basu - violin 
Samarth Nagarkar - vocal 
Neel Murgai - rhythm sitar, overtone singing 
Sameer Gupta - tabla 
David Ellenbogen - electric rhythm guitar 
Abhik Mukherjee - sitar 
Bala Skandan - mridangam 
Mari Tanaka - tampura 

Kaoru Watanabe - c flute, fue, noh kan 
Michel Gentile - c flute 
Sylvain Leroux - chromatic tambin, tambin, c flute 
Ze Luis - c and alto flute 
Mariano Gil - bass flute 

Avram Fefer - tenor saxophone, bass clarinet 
Sean Sonderegger - bass and contrabass clarinet, soprano saxophone 
Sara Schoenbeck - bassoon 
Ivan Barenboim - b flat clarinet 

Charles Burnham - violin 
Julianne Carney-Chung - violin 
Sana Nagano - violin 
Gwen Laster - violin 
Richard Carr - violin 
Stephanie Griffin - viola 
Leco Reis - contrabass 

Graham Haynes - cornet, flugelhorn, kudu horn, bamboo vaccine 
Stephen Haynes - cornet, flugelhorn, solo alto, pocket trumpet, didgeridoo, conch, kudu horn 
Peter Zummo - trombone, didgeridoo, conch, kudu horn 
Libby Schwartz - french horn 

Mia Theodoratus - harp 
Marco Cappelli - electric and acoustic guitars 
Alexis Marcelo - keyboards 
Damon Banks - electric bass 

Harris Eisenstadt - bata (iya, itotele, okonkolo) 
Rogerio Boccato - caxixi, mineiro, temple blocks, bells, wood box surdo 
Hamid Drake - drum kit, okonkolo 
Adam Rudolph - iya, itotele 

Special Guests 
Hassan Hakmoun - sintir, vocal 
Abderahim Hakmoun - qarqaba, vocal 

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