For today’s Tiny Reviews edition, two big band albums which each grabbed my ear back when they were released in 2012, and haven’t really ever let go since. So here’s a little bit about each of them.
Swiss Jazz Orchestra – Lucidity
A fixture on the Bern, Switzerland scene for the last decade, the Swiss Jazz Orchestra has been finding that sweet spot between traditional big band sound and modern conventions. On Lucidity, they bring all of the abounding euphoria one would expect from a small army of brass, woodwinds, and percussion, while at the same time, adding eccentricities and odd brush strokes that give the music a potently cerebral value, too.
Piano and percussion make for a vibrant pairing throughout this fine album, notably on the opening to “Teebeutelregen,” giving it a fairy tale mysticism, and later for an interlude on “A Chaser,” which serves as a transition from an exuberant group section to a bass solo. The saxophone section also particularly shines on this recording. Led by under-the-radar musician Reto Suhner, saxophones weave a tangled web of melody, yet never let it get anywhere close to becoming an unidentifiable mess.
Most tracks have an up-tempo demeanor, but some, like “Bathayal,” slows it down, letting saxophones take some lovely solos, and even on a track like “Losing Lucidity,” which is far from a ballad, yet the composition allows trumpet to coast over the tempo with unhurried purpose. “Promenade” take a bit more of a mainstream approach, giving something up in terms of edge, and even a jaunty piano solo isn’t enough to overcome an unfortunate electric guitar section. “Figment” also begins with a mainstream groove… bright notes and a slick bass line, but it gradually moves into something far less conventional… spurred on primarily by some nice trombone work, and, then, some intriguing percussion, and what began as ordinary has transformed into some quite nifty and different.
An album with a few flaws, but also an album that I return to with some amount of regularity when I’m looking for some big band music. Definitely worth checking out.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Unable to confirm album personnel for this recording.]
Released on the Mons Records label.
Jazz from the Bern, Switzerland scene.
Ratchet Orchestra – Hemlock
On Hemlock, the 30-piece big band Ratchet Orchestra displays a talent at presenting traditional big band music through a modern avant-garde lens, with the resulting picture a clear image of strange and beautiful music. Employing improvisational techniques that free the music of preordained form, they sprinkle their compositions with a pop-music melodic attention to detail and an industrial music mutation of sound, and it’s why tracks begin with an expected euphoric lift suddenly develop into big band music run through an audio blender. Orchestral grace and avant-garde dissonance both find a home here.
“Yield” has a catchy hop and bounce, a celebration of celebrations, whereas “Safety” is the music of church mice. The whimsical “Kick” is a jaunty tune that brings in some spoken word and percussion that sounds taken from a hardware store. The two-part “Kick” builds melodies inside a rhythmic tempest, sometimes battered by the intensity, sometimes riding the drafts. “Winnow” is a moonlight serenade on a night that gets a little stormy, but never stops feeling safe.
An inventive album from an innovative ensemble that’s been around for some time now.
Your album personnel: Craig Dionne (flute), Jean Derome (bass flute, picolo, flute), Lori Freedman (clarinet), Gordon Krieger (bass clarinet), Christopher Cauley (soprano sax), Louisa Sage (alto sax), Damian Nisenson (tenor sax), Jason Sharp (bass sax), Ellwood Epps, Philippe Battikha (trumpets), Tom Walsh, Scott Thomson (trombones), Jacques Gravel (bass trombone), Thea Pratt (Eb horn), Eric Lewis (Euphonium), Noah Countability, Gabriel Rivest (tubas), Joshua Zubot, Guido Del Fabbro, Brigitte Dajczer (violins), Jean René, Gen Heistek (violas), Norsola Johnson (cello), Nicolas Caloia (bass), Chris Burns (guitar), Guillaume Dostaler (piano), Ken Doolittle (percussion), Michel Bonneau (conga), Isaiah Ceccarelli, John Heward (drums).
Released on the Drip Audio label.
Jazz from the Montreal scene.
Download a free album track at AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artists and label.