Dynamic Big Band Music For Transcending Troubled Times

by delarue

Big band composer Daniel Hersog took the title for his album Night Devoid of Stars – streaming at Bandcamp – from a Martin Luther King quote about how love is the only power strong enough to defeat evil: “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.” Hersog wrote most of the record in the wee hours with tv news on in the background. This was before the lockdown, and there doesn’t seem to be any specific political commentary here, but the backdrop is ugly. Clearly, music kept this guy sane – and will continue to do the same for you.

Hersog conducts a sixteen-piece orchestra throughout a dynamic, smartly spacious mix of material that only reaches gale force once in awhile. They open with Cloud Break, a cheerily marching feature for lead trumpeter Brad Turner’s judicious, occasionally feral lines, especially when the group pick it up with a racewalking swing. Tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger artfully echoes a similar intensity as pianist Frank Carlberg glimmers uneasily before the band swing it again: it ain’t got a thing, etc.

Carlberg gets to take a rare detour into spare gospel in the second number, Motion: big band compositions seldom get as quiet as this one does. Preminger’s meticulously voiced solo as the rhythm section takes it into funkier territory is one of the album’s high points. The orchestra finallly return in waves at the end.

Carlberg’s paraphrase of My Favorite Things to introduce Makeshift Memorial leaves the question unanswered: a solemn exchange between Preminger and the brass develops, moments of stark lustre contrasting with a tentative ebullience. Candles left for a gangster only last so long.

Hersog reaches for early 70s Morricone-esque cinematics as the album’s title track gets underway, rising quickly to a punchy, grim urban funk tableau that the band decide to take swinging all of a sudden, Preminger in the catbird seat with a slit-eyed grin, Turner choosing his spots as the dancing pulse reaches toward redline.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is a great song just about all the time no matter who plays it, and Hersog makes a lustously horizontal epic out of it, from Carlberg’s casually cruel, Ran Blake-inflected lines, to hypnotically swirling orchestration and a swaying piano interlude that stops thisshort of jaunty. It’s a song about being haunted, and this is.

Indelible begins as a warmly swaying nocturne, and rises to a gritty peak on the wings of Michael Braverman’s soprano sax, Preminger offering calm over the increasingly acidic, spiky, funky pulse behind him. The ensemble close with Song for Henrique, Carlberg shifting with jaunty latinisms and a more unsettled Middle Eastern chormaticism as the bass and drums pulse tightly behind him. A vividly eclectic performance from an ensemble that also includes Chris Startup on alto sax; Tom Keenlyside on tenor; Ben Henriques on baritone; Michael Kim, Derry Byrne and Jocelyn Waugh on trumpets; Rod Murray, Jim Hopson and Brian Harding on trombones; Sherman King on bass trombone; James Meger on bass and Michael Sarin on drums.