Sweeping Orchestral Big Band Jazz from Idan Santhaus
The big band compositions on Idan Santhaus‘ new Posi-tone album There You Are have steady tempos, bright colors and a slowly unfolding melodicism, sort of a reverse image of Bob Belden’s darkly panoramic Animation project. Santhaus honed his chops as a teenage flutist with the Haifa Youth Orchestra in his native Israel; as you might expect from someone with a classical background and a stint in Jim McNeely’s BMI Composers Workshop, his compositions are third-stream, straight down the middle between classical and jazz, sort of a Maria Schneider Junior. This is big band jazz with an orchestral sweep rather than beefed-up blues or swing, an ensemble project rather than a launching pad for a lot of expansive soloing – which isn’t a bad thing at all. If you can’t wait til Schneider’s next album, this will tide you over.
Much of the opening track, After All is a simple one-chord overture whose waves grow harder the brass rising over an insistent Jon Gordon alto sax solo. Tempo Rarely climbs out of a tensely suspenseful intro to rising and crashing flamenco allusions, then bookends a slinkily swinging, noirish interlude with a funky full-ensemble pulse. The title track begins with suspenseful low sheets punctuated by drum bursts, Santhaus’ own flute terse over a bossa beat. Frank Basile adds a goodnatured, even wry counterbalance on bari sax as it builds.
Now I Feel Like It, Now I Don’t works variations on a catchy singalong hook around a moody bridge of sorts, Matt Garrison’s lingering tenor sax exchanging with Thomas Barber’s more carefree trumpet. Purple and Yellow, a slow late summer tableau sets resonant sostenuto harmonies under James O’Connor’s emphatic trumpet and another smoky excursion from Basile. A Place I Know brings back a summery bossa soul groove, a feature for Michael Dease’s lyrical trombone and Ben Kono’s lively soprano sax, pianist Deanne Witkowski underscoring it with a purist bluesiness.
Change of Season plays off a brightly funky central riff, Mark Small’s tenor solo following the ensemble on a darker trajectory, Andy Hunter’s trombone holding the center over a marionettish dance fueled by the high reeds. High Maintenance starts out as a lustrous ballad and morphs into a pouncing swing tune: it’s the most trad track here. The album winds up with Nothing Yet?!?, taking a somber minor blues riff slowly upward with a brooding bolero pulse. There are two ensembles here, one with eighteen members, the other with sixteen, many of the players appearing in both, tight and seamless all around.