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Tag: big band jazz

Bittersweeet, Imaginative Large Ensemble Jazz From Johannes Wallmann

Pianist Johannes Wallmann’s new Elegy for an Undiscovered Species – streaming at Bandcamp – is an unusual and strikingly tuneful big band jazz album. For one, the lineup – jazz quintet plus a fourteen-piece string orchestra – is unorthodox, harking back to the days of Charlie Parker With Strings. Yet it also engages the orchestra as much as the rest of the group. It’s also remarkably groove-oriented. Conventional wisdom is unless you’re Ron Carter or Buddy Rich, bass and drums in a big band are a thankless task. Not so here.

Don’t let the album title fool you: it’s about contrasts and shades far more than the darkness it implies. The group open with the epically swaying, eleven-minute title track, the strings rustling, tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen working the bittersweet hook over the clustering groove of bassist Nick Moran and drummer Allison Miller. Stephens takes a pensive solo as the orchestra darken the atmosphere, Jensen pushing outward with her microtones and volleys. Wallmann’s solo delivers spirals and erudite blues phrasing as the orchestra rise behind him, with bracing exchanges amid the strings.

The second number, Two Ears Old is a fond ballad, wafting horns contrasting with uneasily circling piano underneath, Wallmann and then Stephens pushing the clouds away and choosing their spots as they climb. Miller’s whispery thicket of sound and nimbly altered shuffle in tandem with Moran’s tersely dancing lines beneath Jensen’s lyrical ambered solo are masterful. They reprise the theme at the end of the album as a bit of a High Romantic feature for cello and piano.

In Threes has rhythms and unsettled harmonies shifting around a piano pedal note as the band gathers momentum. Wallmann eventually abandons a twinkling righthand solo for warpy, spacy synth: the bizareness of the individual strings answering has to be heard to be believed. Whatever you think of this, you can’t say it’s not original.

A looping, syncopated bass riff anchors Expeditor, bright horns versus hushed, expectant strings, Jensen’s calm, floating solo contrasting with the bandleader’s loose-limbed attack and devious exuberance from Miller afterward. The ending is unexpected and amusing.

Longing, a jazz waltz, is the album’s most lyrical and strongest track, Wallmann in lounge lizard mode as the strings waft and then recede. The strings carry the melody. revealing the moody bolero underneath, Stephens ranging from blippy to balmy.

The strings develop a windswept, cinematic tableau to open The Greater Fool, then the rhythm section bring in a clave for Jensen’s low-key, amiable solo, Wallmann delivering some coy ragtime allusions. Miller’s shamanic solo as the modalities darken could be the high point of the record.

An Intricately Constructed New Big Band Suite From Trumpeter Tim Hagans

Trumpeter Tim Hagans‘ ambitious new five-movement “concerto” with the NDR Bigband, A Conversation – streaming at Bandcamp – came out earlier this month. The suite owes as much to contemporary classical music as it does to jazz. As you would expect from a trumpeter, much of this is very bright and brassy. Challenging moments outnumber the more consonant interludes. Hagans’ sense of adventure and large-ensemble improvisation is matched by an embrace of traditional postbop. The operative question is the degree to which all this coheres, and whether listeners from those respective camps will be jarred away by all the stylistic puddle-jumping.

Hagans has engineered many of the successive themes in the first movement to collapse into themselves, to heighten the tension. After a staggering intro, there are echo effects, call-and-response from droll to tense, and suspenseful, increasingly dense rising waves. Pianist Vladyslav Sendecki’s pedalpoint and then simple, climbing riffs anchor blazing brass, a trope that will return many, many times here. In between, he takes a loose-limbed, allusively chromatic solo, the orchestra slowly rising in bursts behind him and then subsiding. An acidic moodiness settles in from there.

Massed swells give way to busy chatter and then a catchy, circling riff from the reeds as the second movement moves along. Baritone saxophonist Daniel Buch – who gets an amazing, crystalline, clarinet-like tone in the upper registers – hovers and then squirrels around. A slow, confident, brassy chorus of sorts recedes for bassist Ingmar Heller’s spare, dancing solo out.

The third movement begins with a brief, discordant duet between Sendecki and Heller that gains momentum with a brassy squall and rises to a blazing quasi-swing. Tenor saxophonist Peter Bolte’s smoky solo followed by trombonist Stefan Lotterman’s precise, dry humor are the high points. The bandleader’s wryly dancing solo at the end offers welcome amusement as well.

Hagans’ command of microtonal inflections in his solo intro to the fourth movement is impressive, to say the least, echoed by alto saxophonist Fiete Felsch as a more-of-less steady sway develops in movement four. Full stop for a shift into a shiny, intricately interwoven clave groove followed by a bit of cartoonish cacaphony, sardonically coalescing variations and a spacy Mario Doctor percussion solo.

The suite concludes with a contented sunset theme of sorts, Hagans using his mute, fading down and suddenly shifting to a funky, latin-tinged drive, a momentary breakdown and an eventual return to the overlays of the initial movement.

A High-Voltage, Colorful, Historically-Inspired Big Band Jazz Suite From the Wilds of Saskatchewan

At the end of December, 2019, the Saskatchewan All Star Big Band played bandleader and keyboardist Fred Stride’s colorful, cinematic, historically-infused Saskatchewan Suite at the Casino Regina – and had the foresight to record it. It would be the last show they would play for quite awhile…but hopefully not forever. Canada may be locked down in perpetuity – the Chinese commies undoubtedly eying Canada’s vast water resources – but resistance there is growing fierce.

In the meantime, we can enjoy this high-voltage performance, streaming at Spotify. Flickers from Dylan Wiest’s vibraphone, a wash from Miles Foxx Hill’s bass, and ominous lows from the brass kick off the night’s first number, The Place. Tentative brassy steps signal the first human incursions into the prairie. Guitarist Jack Semple’s soaring, Gilmouresque lines and pianist Jon Ballantyne’s subtle flourishes lead the group intrepidly into balmier territory. A dip to fleeting individual voices – local fauna? Indians on the lookout for same? – rises with invigorating but wary swells as Ballantyne plays folksy blues. Alto sax player PJ Perry gets to fuel the cheery, Dixieland-tinged conflagration at the end.

Portentous swells over an insistent, shamanistic beat signal further arrivals in the second movement, The First, the group artfully shifting toward a cabaret-tinged ba-bump beat as the brass and reeds swirl and intertwine. The determined, striding cheer seems satirical, lightly spiced by Semple’s spare slide work, Perry choosing his spots in a solo and a coda that seem to echo the more strenuous side of setting up roots in unfamiliar territory.

Movement three, The Newcomers, begins with Perry’s unexpectedly plaintive lines awash in Ed Minevich and Cam Wilson’s violins and the lustre of the reeds. Ballantyne bounces brightly for a bit and then some; the violins signal a bulked-up Irish reel. The jaunty Celtic theme continues in the fourth movement, The In-Between, Perry leading the charge upward with a series of rhythmic shifts as Stride builds tension.

September 1905, the date of Saskatchewan provincehood, is an eventful time, ablaze with brass and tightly clustering, rhythmic rhythms, Ballantyne’s scampering solo handing off to trombonist Shawn Grocott’s blustery cameo; that little quote at the end is irresistible. The sixth movement, Saskatchesport…hmmm…could that be Ballantyne’s piano flicking the puck into an empty net? This turns out to be a suite within a suite. In the most humorous interlude, trumpeter Dean McNeill’s megawatt articulacy fuels a brightly undulating cheer. There’s also wide-angle atmospherics punctuated by drummer Ted Warren’s tricky two-handed dribbling and Perry spinning down from the clouds as the orchestra punch and dodge behind him.

Thank You, Mr. Douglas – a shout-out to longtime NDP leader and Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas – is a low-key, resonantly ambered ballad, Hill’s bass swooping down and bubbling over Ballantyne’s pensive chords and the orchestra wafting overhead. They wind up the suite with Saskatchejazz, which vigorously debunks the longstanding myth that once you leave New York, the quality of the musicians goes down a notch. Veering from quasi John Philip Sousa, to the early swing era, soulful late-night Ellingtonianisms, jump blues, bossa nova, electric faux-Miles, and what could be Buddy Rich, they cover all the bases.

An Electrifying, Entertaining, Amusing Magnum Opus From Multi-Reedwoman Anna Webber

Damn, this is a funny record. Multi-reedwoman Anna Webber‘s mammoth new double album Idiom – streaming at Bandcamp – is her most ambitious yet. She’s no stranger to large-ensemble work, most memorably with her Webber/Morris Big Band album from a couple of years ago. The loosely connecting thread here is extended technique, something Webber has plenty of and uses liberally but not gratuitously. The jokes are relentless and irresistible. Webber gets extra props for having the nerve – and the optimism – to put out another big band record at a time when big band performances in New York have been criminalized. Hopefully for no longer than it takes for a Cuomo impeachment!

There’s also an opening disc, Webber joined by her long-running Simple Trio. The first number is a creepy, circling flute and piano theme and variations, with sudden dynamic and rhythmic shifts. It’s closer to Terry Riley than jazz. Drummer John Hollenbeck adds flickering color to the steady sway, pianist Matt Mitchell setting off a lake of ripples from the lows upward. Furtiveness becomes spritely, then the hypnotic spiral returns.

The second of these Idiom pieces has even more of an air of mystery in the beginning, its spaciously wispy minimalism growing more herky-jerky, up to a clever piano-sax conversation over Hollenbeck’s funky drive. Forgotten Best is a great track, beginning as a very allusive, rhythmically resistant take on hauntingly majestic Civil Rights Coltrane, then hitting a triumphant, quasi-anthemic drive. The trio follow with a coyly comedic, hypnotically circular, flute-driven march.

Webber subtly employs her pitch pedal for sax duotones and microtones in the third of the Idiom series over Hollenbeck’s straight-ahead funk and Mitchell’s surgical staccato, then clusters wildly over the pianist’s various vortices. The drummer’s persistent gremlin at the door signals a shivery shift.

The twelve-piece large ensemble play an epic, largely improvisational seven-track suite on the second disc. Emphatic swats over a murmuring background, with a wryly funny low/high exchange, pervade the opening movement. One assume that’s the bandleader’s distant squall that sets off a racewalking pace. Sounds like somebody’s using a EWI for those Marshall Allen-style blips and squiggles.

An airy, increasingly suspenseful interlude introduces movement two, Webber back on flute, fluttering in tandem with Yuma Uesaka’s clarinet over the tiptoeing Frankenstein of the rhythm section – Nick Dunston on bass and Satoshi Takeishi on drums. A swinging fugue follows, the rest of the horns – Nathaniel Morgan on alto sax, Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, David Byrd-Marrow on horn and Jacob Garchik on trombone joined by the string trio of violinist Erica Dicker, violist Joanna Mattrey and cellist Mariel Roberts. Webber’s mealy-mouthed meandering, picked off by the trombone, is another deviously amusing moment.

O’Farrill punctures the mist of the second interlude and then wafts optimistically, a goofy faux-takadimi duel between horn and trumpet finally disappearing into a chuffing shuffle; ersatz qawwali has seldom been so amusing. Everybody gets to make a Casper the Friendly Ghost episode out of the fourth movement. Movement five slowly coalesces out of looming mystery, O’Farrill playfully nudging everybody up, Webber’s acidic multiphonics over a slinky quasi-tropical syncopation and an ending that’s predictably ridiculous.

The group rise out of the ether a final time to impersonate a gamelan for awhile the string section leading the ramshackle parade this time. It’s as if Webber is daring us to go out and have half as much fun as she did making this album.

A Breathtaking, Epic Debut Album From the Fabia Mantwill Orchestra

There hasn’t been a debut big band jazz album on as ambitious a level as the Fabia Mantwill Orchestra’s initial release, Em.Perience (streaming at Spotify) in a long time. Maybe since Asuka Kakitani’s similarly symphonic first record. The vast scope of the saxophonist/singer/bandleader’s ideas, her lush East African-inspired melodicism and outside-the-box arrangements will sweep you off your feet. To compare a lot of this to Darcy James Argue and Maria Schneider would not be overhype. Albums like this are what people who run music blogs live for. Mantwill has an exceptional ear for textures and a penchant for unusual pairings of instruments, and alludes to an amazingly eclectic range of influences without aping any of them.

The first sparkling riffs over the lush string section on the first song, a lavish arrangement of Becca Stevens’ Ophelia, are from Milena Hoge’s harp. After the second chorus, a spiky Portuguese guitar takes over. Stormy low brass kicks in beneath muted trumpet and orchestral percussion, foreshadowing the moment when the wounded warrior gazes into the ocean, sees the suicide girl’s ghost and decides life is worth living after all. It’s part Moody Blues, part Gil Evans, part Nico’s Chelsea Girl with a singer who hits all the notes. What a way to open the record.

The rest of it is almost all Mantwill compositions, the first titled Pjujeck. Trombonist Nils Landgren kicks it off, hard, answered tersely by guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, the strings ushering in the most vastly expansive, exuberant dance theme you will hear this year. The two soloists engage in a funky upward drive, Landgren’s jaunty New Orleans-isms eventually giving way to Rosenwinkel’s surreal, 180-degree detour into deep-space ambience, which Mantwill ties up in a neat package at the end.

She sings in Swahili in Sasa Ndio Sasa (Here and Now), inspired by her travels in East Africa. A suspenseful, droning bass intro bows out for a bouncily hypnotic, circling rondo featuring the “Tanzanian Kids Choir.” As symphonic African music, it brings to mind Toumani Diabate’s work with the London Symphony Orchestra, although Mantwill’s composition is somewhat more intricate, from Maria Reich’s warily kinetic viola solo, to Rosenwinkel’s EWI-like envelope-pedal solo, to the jubilantly cantering coda.

Erwachen (German for “Awakening”) is a lavish, balmy Isle of Skye seascape, Mantwill’s sax looking back to a famous 70s ballad: it’s the album’s most straightforwardly beautiful interlude. Marcio Doctor’s shamanic percussion and vibraphone fuel the dynamically expansive Serengeti-scape Kumbukumbu, flugelhornist Konstantin Döben adding a resonant but enigmatic solo before the group shift toward a string-infused pulse that brings to mind McCoy Tyner’s Fly With the Wind.

The lively African-flavored rhythms and riffs continue in Triology. The addition of steel pan in contrast to Daniel Buch’s chuffing baritone sax is an especially clever touch, as is the bari/bass/drums breakdown in the middle, Morphine on whippits.

Tilmann Dehnhard’s alto flute sprouts, afloat in what’s left of the snows in Melodie de la Riviere. a French Riviera early spring tableau. Yet even here, there’s a circling, mutedly leaping African rhythm, Hoge introducing baroque austerity in her solo harp interlude, Döben’s steady, calm flugelhorn following to signal a determined, verdant crescendo. They tiptoe their way out.

The album’s final number is Festival at High Noon, by Megan Ndale, which may have been inspired by a music festival in Nepal but sounds more distinctly Tanzanian or Kenyan…and then Balkan. Violist Reich reaches to the bottom of her register and then swoops skyward, bristling with reverb; tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel memorably follows that same pattern. This is the top contender for best jazz debut of 2021 so far.

A Wild, Gorgeously Surreal Jazz Mass From the Czech Republic

You have never heard anything as surreal or triumphantly outside-the-box as the B-Side Band’s performance of Jaromír Hnilička’s Missa Jazz, streaming at Spotify. Structured in segments that follow a traditional liturgical sequence, it’s a jazz symphony, the Chamber Orchestra Brno and the Ars Brunensis chamber choir bolstering this large ensemble from Brno in the Czech Republic. Its ancestors seem to be Mary Lou Williams’ gospel suites, but also Pachelbel and Tschaikovsky…and the unhinged psychedelia of the Electric Prunes’ Mass in F Minor, maybe. This is an amazing piece of music, obviously recorded live in a big space with generous natural reverb.

After a brightly crescendoing quasi-baroque intro, the kettledrum announces the jazz ensemble, who launch into a theme that would play well behind the opening credits of an adventure movie. They swing it hard at the end.

The introit has shiny, resonant trumpet over suspenseful strings, up to a slinky, noirish groove with distant echoes of 19th century African-American gospel. The choir enter in the epic, almost twelve-minute kyrie, strings and winds approximating an organ prelude. From there the group shift through bluesy baritone sax over a slithery swing, a sedate hymn-like interlude from the reeds and then a stormy, brass-fueled march of sorts.

After a stately choral introduction, the racewalking, brassy gloria has New Orleans tinges and lively trumpet and trombone solos.

The group go back to suspense for the graduale, with desolate trombone set to starry strings and a sotto-voce, deliciously Ethiopian-tinged pulse that hits a jaunty bit of a march and then makes a lowdown return.

Omnis Gentes Jubilate Deo, a minimalistic chorale, sets up the similarly terse credo: Hnilička’s voicings, where together the groups effectively mimic the textures of a pipe organ, are spot-on. After a bit of a Sanctus and a Pater Noster, a windswept suspense returns in the “interludium.”

The choir make a final entrance for the momentary, stately agnus dei followed by a communio which bristles with unexpected contrasts and persistent unease as the strings rise from a brooding tone poem of sorts. The saints jubilantly swing their way out in the concluding postlude.

A Vibrant, Evocative, Summery Album From the Dennis Kwok Jazz Orchestra

The Dennis Kwok Jazz Orchestra’s album Windward Bound – streaming at Bandcamp – opens with a mist of wave splashes and sounds of shorebirds. But those aren’t samples. That’s the band conjuring up remarkable facsimiles of both. It’s a characteristically playful touch for multi-reeedman Kwok’s six-part suite, inspired by sailing on Lake Ontario and the lore of the sea.

The opening theme, The Calling begins as a calm, baroque-influenced prelude for winds, the rest of the nineteeen-piece ensemble sweeping up and in with hints of a sea chantey. It has the same lush, bucolic familiarity as Maria Schneider‘s lake-themed compositions.

Pianist Augustine Yates’ expectant pedalpoint anchors Kwok’s balmy alto sax intro, singer Caity Gyorgy adding lustrous vocalese as Ready, Aye, Ready gets underway. Bassist Jonathan Wielebnowski and drummer Jacob Wutzke drive the orchestra to a triumphant series of peaks, then shift from a funky sway to suspense as the piece ebbs and rises again. There’s a moment where guitarist Aidan Funston takes over the pedalpoint that could be Darcy James Argue in  a foreboding moment…except that this album is generally upbeat and optimistic.

A Flat Boat Is a Fast Boat has driving latin flair, horns bursting above a rapid swing that threatens to get frantic, then the saxes – who include Naomi McCarroll-Butler, Sophia Smith, Brenden Varty, Kyle Tarder-Stoll and Jonathan Lau – battle it out with the brass. The fluttery false ending before Funston’s spiky solo is a cool touch.

The album’s big improvisational epic is The Tempest, beginning with stark low-register foreshadowing from the piano, followed by a series of skeletal accents throughout the ensemble as the bass growls in the distance. Slowly they rise out of muted skronk to an increasingly nebulous but agitated swirl as flute and trombones soar and resonate. The storm recedes quickly with a few fitful flourishes.

The fifth number, Elegy is where the whole group really coalesce with a shadowy power, in variations on a broodingly rising modal piano riff. Kwok’s misty, melancholy lines pack a quiet punch when the music recedes. The lakeside imagery as the upward drive returns is characteristically evocative.

Kwok brings the suite full circle with the final number, Red, Right, Returning, building on the original high-seas theme with carefree sax and a soulful muted trumpet solo. The rest of this inspired crew include trumpeters Megan Jutting, Matt Smith, Paul Callander, Marie Goudy and trombonists Nick Marshall, Andrew Gormley, Charlotte Mcafee-Brunner and Inayat Kassam.

So where the hell was this blog when this album hit the web in 2017? Focusing on the New York live music scene. Concerts: remember those? It won’t be long before we’re all going out again just like we used to. This summer, everybody’s going to bust loose. Lockdowners, you’re surrounded, time to raise the white flag or else.

Revisiting a Lavish, Exquisitely Textured, Symphonic Big Band Album by Brian Landrus

Listening to one Brian Landrus album makes you want to hear more. It’s impossible to think of another baritone saxophonist from this era , or for that matter any other, who’s a more colorful composer. Landrus’ masterpiece so far is his titanic Generations big band album, which hit the web about four years ago and is streaming at Spotify. A grand total of 25 players go deep into its lavish, meticulously layered, completely outside-the-box charts .

It opens with The Jeru Concerto, equally inspired by the patron saint of baritone sax big band composition, Gerry Mulligan, as well as Landrus’ young son. Right off the bat, the band hit a cantering rhythm with distant echoes of hip-hop, but also symphonic lustre, the bandleader entering suavely over starry orchestration. He ripples and clusters and eventually leads the group to a catchy, soul-infused theme that could be Earth Wind and Fire at their most symphonic and organic.

A tightly spiraling solo baritone interlude introduces the second segment on the wings of the string section, Landrus’ soulful curlicues and spacious phrasing mingling with the increasingly ambered atmosphere and an unexpected, cleverly shifting pulse. The third movement calms again: watch lights fade from every room, until a more-or-less steady sway resumes. The textures, with harpist Brandee Younger and vibraphonist Joe Locke peeking up as bustling counterpoint develops throughout the group, are exquisite.

The conclusion begins with an altered latin groove, the bandleader shifting toward a more wary theme, neatly echoed in places by the orchestra, ornate yet incredibly purposeful. Landrus moves between a balmy ballad and anxious full-ensemble syncopation, cleverly intertwining the themes up to a casually triumphant final baritone solo.

Orchids, a surreal reggae tune, opens with a starry duet between Younger and Locke and rises to a big sax-fueled peak. Arise is even more playfully surreal, a haphazardly optimistic mashup of Kool and the Gang and Gershwin at his most orchestrally blustery. The Warrior has a Holst-like expanse underpinned by a subtle forward drive from the bass (that’s either Jay Anderson or Lonnie Plaxico) as well as incisive trumpet and violin solos and a triumphant march out.

Arrow in the Night is a comfortably nocturnal prelude with a dark undercurrent: things are not always as they seem. With its persistent, top-to-bottom light/dark contrasts, Human Nature comes across as a busier yet vampier take on classic Gil Evans.

Ruby, dedicated to Landrus’ daughter, has as much gentle playfulness as balminess, with puckish accents, a lyrical baritone solo and an undulating rhythm: this kid is fun, but she’s got a plan and she sticks to it. The ensemble close with Every Time I Dream, a catchy, dancingly orchestrated hip-hop theme akin to a more lavish take on Yaasin Bey’s adventures in new classical music, flurrying trumpet pulling the orchestra out of a momentary reverie.

An epic performance from a rotating cast that also includes drummers Billy Hart andJustin Brown, Jamie Baum, Tom Christensen, Darryl Harper, Michael Rabinowitz and Alden Banta among the reeds; Debbie Schmidt, Ralph Alessi, Igmar Thomas, Alan Ferber and Marcus Rojas as the brass; and a string section of Sara Caswell, Mark Feldman, Joyce Hammann, Meg Okura, Lois Martin, Nora Krohn, Jody Redhage and Maria Jeffers.

One Mighty Showstopper After Another on the JCA Orchestra’s Latest Live Album

The JCA Orchestra are the Boston counterpart to Miho Hazama’s rotating cast of big band jazz talent, whose home until the lockdown was the Jazz Gallery. But the JCA Orchestra have been championing the work of lesser-known composers since before Hazama was born. These days the Jazz Gallery has been repurposed as a web tv studio – temporarily, let’s hope – and the JCA Orchestra are on ice, at least for the time being. But they have a brilliant, wildly diverse and entertaining new album, Live at the BPC streaming at youtube.

A couple of extremely colorful compositions by violinist Mimi Rabson open and then close this concert from early October, 2018. The former, Romanople, imagines a Turkish entourage journeying to ancient Rome, only to be drafted into the army and killed in battle. The Strings Theory Trio – Rabson, cellist Junko Fujiwara and violinist Helen Sherrah-Davies – slink along on a cantering Near Eastern theme, turning it over to the brass for a boisterous Balkan dance with a simmering Phil Scharff clarinet solo. The orchestra’s eerie nebulosity as the two themes mingle is deliciously disquieting; Fujiwara’s similarly bracing solo is tantalizingly brief. Everything falls apart, as empires tend to do, a ghost of a melody undulating into the sunset.

The closing number, Super Eyes – Private Heroes is a sort of big band take on Spy vs. Spy-era John Zorn, a bustling swing tune with an incisively bluesy Sherrah-Davies solo over a halfspeed breakdown, trombonist David Harris’ tongue-in-cheek solo triggering an irresistibly funny coda.

The middle of the set is every bit as entertaining. The slow, enigmatic swells that introduce The Latest, the first of two Harris compositions, don’t hint at the electra-glide latin groove that follows, Melanie Howell-Brooks’ crystalline bass clarinet solo over a catchy theme that looks back to McCoy Tyner’s orchestrated 1976 classic, Fly With the Wind. Subtle variations on Thai-influenced pentatonics and a fanged, prowling Norm Zocher guitar solo raise the energy from there.

Harris’ conduction on his other tune here, Yellow, Orange, Blue, blends Butch Morris-style massed clusters and bursts with a catchy, allusively Middle Eastern clave theme, strongly bringing to mind Amir ElSaffar‘s adventures in largescale improvisation. Trombonist Jason Camelio’s invigorating solo as drummer Tony “Thunder” Smith drives this beast doublespeed and then cuts loose himself is one of the album’s tastiest interludes.

Trombonist Bob Pilkington’s epic The Sixth Snake sheds its skin more times than you can count, from suspenseful atmosphere puncuated by Vessela Stoyanova’s vibraphone, to Darcy James Argue-like insistence, to an eerie, spacious Maxim Lubarsky solo piano break. The composer follows with a sagacious solo as the rhythm edges toward a funky sway; Lihi Haruvi’s sailing soprano sax narrowly averts a collision with Scharff and draws an explosion of applause before the funky romp out.

Uneasy microtones filter through the airy introduction of another equally epic number, Darrell Katz’s A Wallflower in the Amazon, a setting of text by his late wife, poet Paula Tatarunis. Soprano Rebecca Shrimpton gives velvety, soaring affirmation to an embattled individualist finally finding her footing in an unexpected milieu, the band reaching from a lustrous sway, to a bubbling waltz, to a tropical duel between the string section and Hiro Honshuko’s EWI. Rick Stone’s agitated alto sax fuels a shivering massed coda; Shrimpton pulls the volume down and the intensity back up to all-stops-out squall. They take it out elegantly.

A richly conceived accomplishment by a group that also includes trumpeters Mike Peipman, Dan Rosenthal and Jerry Sabatini, horn player Jim Mosher, percussionist Gilbert Mansour and bassist Jesse Williams.

An Eclectically Catchy Big Band Album by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Players

Does listening to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Players transform them from a seventeen-piece big band into a trio? One of the premises of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is that some particles are so small that merely observing them changes their state. It’s an extension of the basic idea that some tools are too heavy for the job: you don’t use a hammer where just your thumb would do.

Ultimately, Heisenberg’s postulate challenges us to consider whether some things will always be essentially unknowable: a very Islamic concept, when you think about it. But you hardly need special powers of observation to enjoy this big band’s energy, and catchy themes, and pervasive sense of humor. Their album Gradient is streaming at Bandcamp. There’s a high-energy sax solo on almost every one of bandleader/conductor John Dorhauer’s compositions here, sometimes expected, sometimes not.

The opening number, Boombox, makes a momentary Mission Impossible theme out of the old surf rock hit Tequila, then hits a Weather Report style faux-soukous bubbliness for a bit before shifting toward a gospel groove beneath Matthew Beck’s joyous tenor sax.

The second track, Nevertheless She Persisted is a slow, slinky gospel tune, Stuart Seale’s tersely soulful organ ceding the spotlight to a low-key, burbling trombone solo from Chris Shuttleworth and a big massed crescendo from the brass. Subject/Verb/Object has clever, rhythmless variations on a circling, Ethiopian-tinged riff, in an Either/Orchestra vein; the polyrhythms that ensue as the piece comes together and then calms to an uneasy syncopation are a cool touch.

Four Sides of the Circle begins as a stately, mysterious, Indian-tinged theme for choir and piano, then chattering high reeds take centerstage as the song almost imperceptibly edges toward dusky, modal soul over a familiar Radiohead hook.

The East African tinges return, but more cheerily in Plasma, with its rhythmically tricky interweave of counterpoint. Mahler 3 Movement 1 is exactly that: a moody, jazzed-up classical theme that rises from rumors of war, to brassy King Crimson art-rock fueled by Chris Parsons’ burning guitar, to chipper, Gershwinesque swing over a quasi-reggae beat and then back.

The record winds up with the Basketball Suite. The first segment, Switch Everything is the band’s Dr. J (that’s a Grover Washington Jr. reference). Part two, Point Giannis is probably the slowest hoops theme ever written: Dan Parker’s hypnotic bassline brings to mind a classic Jah Wobble groove on PiL’s Metal Box album. The band take a turn back toward booding, pulsing Ethiopiques with Schedule Loss, Adam Roebuck’s incisive trumpet contrasting with James Baum’s suave, smoky baritone sax. It ends with the album’s warmly funky, vamping title track An entertaining achievement from an ensemble that also includies saxophonists Natalie Lande, Kelley Dorhauer and Dan Burke, trombonists Michael Nearpass, Josh Torrey and Dan Dicesare, trumpeters Jon Rarick and Emily Kuhn and drummer Jonathon Wenzel.