Monday, April 15, 2013

CONCERT REVIEW: Jon Armstrong Jazz Orchestra

Photo by Erin Barnes
On April 6, Jon Armstrong presented a 24-piece jazz orchestra at the Blue Whale. It was the largest ensemble ever to play in that space, and the robust sound filled every corner.

Many of the tunes were originally written for smaller groups, including Slumgum (most of whom were in the band that night). These were refracted through a filter of orchestrational influences, including Vinnie Golia, Quincy Jones, Duke Ellington, and (70's) Miles Davis. Having the palette of an entire 24-piece ensemble will inevitably bring out new dimensions of any composition, transforming it into something new.

The lineup of musicians was stellar (see below), and each performer was given a chance in the spotlight. The solos didn't feel like your typical jazz one-upmanship, as each soloist's style was surprisingly distinct and developed. Perhaps this is due to all but a few of the musicians having gone through David Roitstein's jazz program at Calarts. It was a kaleidoscope of voices, and their strategic placement through the music seemed to give each player a moment in their natural element. The solo highlights for me were Gary Fukushima's unaccompanied piano solo in the first tune, the tuba solo by Stefan Kac in the last tune, and some great moments by Gavin Templeton and Clinton Patterson.

Photo by Kubilay Uner
The compositions fit together through their diversity. Armstrong took the lead for one ballad, in which close mic'ing allowed you to hear the breath control and shifts of partials.  The first tune of the second set reminded me of Pierro Piccioni, but in 7. Another tune featured the whole ensemble playing heavy interlocking patterns and harmelodic unisons, occasionally reminding me of Louis Andriessen's Workers Union.

The only "song" of the evening featured vocalise by Joon Lee, owner of The Blue Whale. I wanted the post-ambient intro to continue in suspended animation, as I always do with the third movement of Symphony of Psalms (rehearsal number 22 on...). However, the 6/8 that it transitioned into sounded refreshingly candid with Lee's vocals, the timbre of which one doesn't normally hear in jazz (which made it that much more effective).

It's a good thing that they got a solid recording, as I can imagine how hard it is to get all of these busy musicians in the same room at the same time on a weekend night. Here is the list of personnel:

Gavin Templeton
Phil O'Connor
Erin Armstrong
Brian Walsh
Andrew Conrad

Mike Steever
Daniel Rosenboom
Josh Aguiar
Andrew Rowan
Clinton Patterson

Low Brass:
George McMullin
Ryan Dragonn
Duane Benjamin
Paul Rivera
Stefan Kac

Trevor Anderies
Andrew Lessman
Randy Gloss
Chris Payne
David Tranchina
Gary Fukashima
Alex Noice

Joon Lee

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