New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: Liesl Whitaker

Epic, Stormy Grandeur From Mike Holober and the Gotham Jazz Orchestra

Pianist Mike Holober has been busy as an arranger lately – his charts for the NDR Bigband are out-of-the-box exquisite – but has made a welcome return to his role as leader of the Gotham Jazz Orchestra. Their epic new double album Hiding Out – streaming at Spotify – is the Grand Canyon Suite of jazz. Its initial inspirations are the grandeur of the American West, and a long-abused tributary that flows into Manhattan Harbor. Its boundless energy and intensity are pure New York. If you need music that makes your pulse race, this is your fix.

Built around a suspenseful “over here!” riff, the practically fourteen-minute opening diptych, Jumble, takes on a catchy, cantering maracatu pulse, with gusts from around the orchestra bursting in and out of the sonic picture: if Carl Nielsen had been a jazz guy, he might have sounded like this. Holober’s low-key Rhodes solo offers barely a hint of how far alto saxophonist Jon Gordon’s crescendo is going to go; likewise, guitarist Jesse Lewis’ waves upward into the combustible stratosphere.

Most of the rest of the album is two suites. Flow, a Hudson River epic, begins with lushly acidic, shifting tectonic sheets over a suspenseful tiptoe beat: the effect when the low brass and bass enter is nothing short of magnificent but just as ominous (look what the industrial revolution did to New York waterways). A subtle shift to a quasi-samba groove with towering horns recedes for a poignant Jason Rigby tenor solo against Holober’s glittering piano, part Messiaen, part Fats Waller in calm mode. Somberly blustery variations on a minor blues bassline anchor devious horn exchanges: is that competing ferries honking at each other?

That’s just the first part! This monstrosity tops the forty minute mark. Part two, Opalescence is slightly less expansive (eleven-minute), darker and more resonantly concise variation on the opening theme – Chuck Owen’s similarly titanic River Runs suite comes to mind. Marvin Stamm’s trumpet weaves slowly in and out, Holober slowly developing an achingly lyrical interlude. This may be a lazy river sometimes, but it’s deep. The concluding chapter, Harlem is introduced via a brooding interlude featuring piano and flute, seemingly a shout-out to the Lenapes who tended this land before the murderous Europeans arrived. Billy Drewes’ carefree solo alto sax kicks off Holober’s hard-swinging salute to New York’s original incubator for jazz, Scott Wendholdt’s trumpet flurrying away as the music shifts toward a more 21st century milieu and an ineluctable return to the turbulence of the river itself. The band take a jubilant dixieland-flavored romp out,

The title suite – a Wyoming big-sky tableau – opens with austere woodwinds, building to a enigmatically charged atmosphere that grows more broodingly Darcy James Argue-tinged as the cleverly implied melody of the second movement, Compelled, looms into focus. Holober works the low/high and jaunty/sinister contrasts for all they’re worth, Steve Cardenas’ guitar leaping through the raindrops. John Hebert’s spring-loaded bass pulse mingled within the bandleader’s fanged neoromantic solo.

A pair of miniatures – a bright, enveloping interlude and a moody piano theme – lead into the symphonic conclusion, It Was Just the Wind. Holober picks up the pace with a syncopated, somewhat icy solo intro, then the orchestra rise to a qawwali-ish triplet groove with lush horn exchanges, a leaping Gordon alto solo and a more enigmatic one from tenor saxophonist Adam Kolker against sparely wary piano and guitar. Although Holober eventually interpolates a warmly pastoral theme amid the swells and slashes, whatever was out there was closer to Blair Witch territory than the Lone Ranger out on the range.

The ensemble wind up the album with an expansively orchestrated take of Jobim’s Carminhos Cruzados, a wide palette built around Stamm’s tenderly resonant phrasing and pinwheeling clarity. There hasn’t been such an electrifying big band record released in many months, an early contender for best jazz album of the year from an inspired cast that also includes Dave Pietro, Ben Kono and Charles Pillow on reeds; Steve Kenyon and Carl Maraghi on baritone sax and bass clarinet; Tony Kadleck, Liesl Whitaker and James de LaGarza on trumpets; Tim Albright, Mark Patterson, Alan Ferber, Bruce Eidem and Pete McGuinness on trombones; Nathan Durham on bass trombone; Jay Azzolina on guitar; Mark Ferber and Jared Schonig sharing the drum chair and Rogerio Boccato on percussion.

Top Tier Talent Celebrate Women in Jazz Out Back of Lincoln Center

This July 3 at 7:30 PM, for the second year in a row, there’s a celebration of women in jazz at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing series in Damrosch Park. The lineup last year was kiler and so is this year’s slightly smaller crew. The Sisterhood of Swing Seven get their name from the pioneering all-female swing group from the 1930s. Singer Catherine Russell fronts this year’s allstar septet, with Camille Thurman on tenor sax; Emily Asher on trombone; Endea Owens on bass; Shirazette Tinnin on drums; Champian Fulton on piano and Molly Ryan on guitar. It’s free to get into the park, $18 in advance for the dancefloor

Last year’s lineup had some association with this era’s foremost all-female big band, the Diva Jazz Orchestra, whose brilliantly melodic 25th Anniversary Project album is streaming at their music page. The orchestrations are as majestic as the bandname: A handful of the tunes are pretty straight-up swing, although most of the record is considerably more ambitious. The lineup includes Erica von Kleist and Janelle Reichman on tenor sax; Mercedes Beckman and Alexa Tarantino on alto; Leigh Pilzer on baritone sax and bass clarinet; Rachel Therrien, Barbara Laronga, Jami Dauber and Liesl Whitaker on trumpets; Leslie Havens on bass trombone; Sara Jacovino and Jennifer Krupa on trombones; Tomoko Ohno on piano; Noriko Ueda on bass and bandleader Sherrie Maricle on drums.

The first track, East Coast Andy is brassy and bluesy, with some coy pairings on the low end and a long solo from Pilzer’s baritone. Middleground follows an upward trajectory from a strikingly brooding, subtly polyrhythmic first section, to a precise but unsettled Ohno piano solo and then Reichman’s clarinet carrying a much brighter theme skyward.

Seesaw, a latin-tinged jazz waltz, has devious ornamentation, built around Tarantino’s crystalline, perfectly modulated soprano sax. Jami’s Tune is a blazing, catchy hot 20s-style theme with a jaunty two-trumpet conversation. Mighty, sustained brass phrases interchange over Maricle’s low-key, syncopated clave in Square One, trumpet and alto sax trading off at midpoint.

Beyond the allusive modal vamp at the center, Darkness of the Matter at first doesn’t hint it’s going in that direction, but after a bubbling trombone feature, Reichman’s tenor sax brings in the clouds with some bracing echo effects. Dancing clarinet and piano introduce the quasi-Brazilian bluster of La Americana, a launching pad for a cheery clarinet solo from Reichman.

A Quarter Past the Last Minute has a hi-de-ho swing flair, with a muted trumpet solo like blues from the hall of the mountain king ,plus some ridiculously funny trombone moments. Forever in My Heart is the album’s lone ballad and most lustrously lingering cut, with lyrical trumpet, whispery bass and glimmering piano solos. The final number is the briskly charging, dixieland-flavored The Rhythm Changes.

This group have come a long way since the evening in the fall of 1999 when a future blog owner saw all eighteen members of the orchestra line up in three tiers, packed in as close as a band can be, on the little stage of a long-gone East Village boite, the C-Note. Space may have been tight that night, but so were the Diva Jazz Orchestra. Plus ça change…