Lucid Culture


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.

February 20, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Jeff Holmes Quartet Gets Tuneful and Thoughtful

Calling a jazz album “mellow” is usually the kiss of death. But consider: Birth of the Cool is a mellow album. So is Kind of Blue. For that matter, so is a lot of Time Out. The Jeff Holmes Quartet’s new Miles High release Of One’s Own follows in that tradition: tuneful and laid-back, with a nonchalant, warm camaraderie between the musicians. Though there are many subtle shades here, it’s a reminder that darkness isn’t a prerequisite for depth.

As lively as some of the music becomes, the band plays singlemindedly: pianist Holmes, reedman Adam Kolker, bassist James Cammack and drummer Steve Johns lock into the vibe, always on top of the moment when it’s time to chill. Holmes has a gift for writing lyrical songs without words: every one of his originals here is strong. The best of them is One for C.J., a deliciously catchy, understated cha-cha jazz hit, Kolker evoking his best work with Ray Baretto’s band with his swirling, smoky, chromatically fueled bass clarinet. Another standout is Rose on Driftwood , Kolker again on bass clarinet, Cammack and Johns artfully shifting the rhythm from a circular Ethiopian groove to a latin funk vibe while Holmes works vivid light/dark dichotomies.

That kind of slow, almost imperceptible trajectory to an unexpected crescendo happens again and again throughout the album. They take Toby Holmes’ Waltz #3 from warm ballad mode to more pensive, fueled by Kolker’s thoughtful, allusively bluesy tenor sax and then Cammack’s spacious bass solo, but then go up and out on a high note. It makes a good setup for Holmes’ title track, a clinic in judicious crescendos that winds up with a much more minimalist, goodnaturedly wry outro.

Macaroons reaches for a Bill Frisell/Jeremy Udden Americana jazz catchiness, building toward a ragtime-inspired feel, while The Senses Delight, a gentle ballad, stays far enough aloft to escape the tender trap, both Holmes and Kolker (on tenor here) both careful not to overstate their case. By contrast, they play Poinciana with a surreal, midsummer balminess, spacious and suspenseful – it’s a great song to begin with, and they really nail it, Holmes’ careful precision echoed by Cammack while Johns casually develops a slow samba pace. A carefree take of John Abercrombie’s Labour Day and a rather triumphant version of the Rodgers/Hammerstein standard So Long, Farewell complete the picture, an attractive one in every sense of the word.

November 14, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment