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Customer Review

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not really free jazz- what it is though, it's great!, February 1, 2007
This review is from: We Are All From Somewhere Else (Audio CD)
I am always amazed when I see something like this CD unreviewed. I thought that a lot of jazz reviewers would be all over this recent Rob Mazurek project. Mazurek brought together a lot of the mainstays of the Chicago modernist music scene, composed for them, rehearsed them and then unleashed them in John McEntire's studio.

Before I go any further, let me explain my title. This music mostly does not sound like any sort of large group improvisation. The compositional methods sound (to me and my limited knowledge) to be fairly traditional although very very broad in range. For example, I understand that Mazurek recorded electric eels which are part of the mix. There are two main suites and one interlude. Actually the sound samples on this page should give you a good idea of what to expect.

The musicians are as follows: Mazurek (cornet,computer), Nicole Mitchell (flute, voice), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Corey Wilkes (flugelhorn), Josh Berman (cornet), Matt Bauder (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Jeff Parker (guitar), Jim Baker(piano, ARP pianette), Jason Adasiewicz (vibraphone), John McEntire (tubular bells, marimba), Matthew Lux (bass guitar), Jason Ajemian (acoustic bass), Mike Reed (drums, percussion, saw), and John Herndon (drums).

Obviously some of these people are better known than others. Most contemporary jazz fans will be familiar with Mazurek, Bishop, Parker and the Tortoise guys. The main solo voice seems to be that of Nicole Mitchell's flute which sounds great up against the backgrounds with which Mazurek surrounds her. If, like me, you are an ignorant savage who was unaware of her work, you will be impressed. Some of her own projects are among my next purchases.

The suites are very atmospheric, varied and well thought out. Portions of Cosmic Tomes for Sleepwalking Lovers are probably the origins of the claims that this is free jazz. That suite opens on what sounds like a group improv. It is in passages like this that you can hear the results of rehearsal time. There is a lot of sheer sound being produced but there is a sense of coherence and even of room. It makes sense when people choose to play and to drop out. This fades into a nice little riff that starts off part 2. And so on. As I said earlier, listen to the samples.

What should be apparent is that these are superb musicians being led by a composer who knows what he is doing. There are so few really good additions every year to Creative Orchestra Music. It is not an easy genre of music to play. It requires so much. We can only hope that these people can keep this project going and continue to grace us occassionally with music of this quality. For now, I will simply state that if you like modern creative music or contemporary big band music, then this CD is destined to be one of your favorites of the year. Well done, Mr. Mazurek and associates.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 5, 2007 3:52:09 PM PST
Autonomeus says:
Hey Greg -- how would you compare Mazurek's avant-big band to those led by Sam Rivers, William Parker, Barry Guy or others? How much is composition and how much improvisation? Thanks in advance!

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 6, 2007 5:51:16 PM PST
greg taylor says:
O, what a perfectly lovely question. First, as always, I have to declare my lack of theoretical knowledge to answer this- you have a better background in music theory then I do. Therefore what follows is only the rantings of one opinionated guy. But with that caveat, I spent part of the day listening to the Exploding Star CD again today followed by Rivers' Culmination CD with his Rivbea All-Star Orchestra and the Barry Guy New Orchestra CD, Inscape-Tableaux. Not surprisingly, the ESO CD is the most traditional of the three in approach.
The BGNO CD sounds as if it is mostly a series of musical landscapes for his core trios and Crispell to solo and interact on. Even the composed sections sound like they exist mostly for Crispell.
The ESO is in some ways the least complicated of the three CDs. There are plenty of sections of the two suites that use the Orchestra as a whole instead of breaking it down into individual sections playing off one another. Parts of it swing like crazy. The instrumentation and the artists make it sound more traditional (Again-this is not a bad thing. I think we both agree that it isn't about genres but what the musicians do with the genres.)
The Rivers CD is inbetween. His pieces seem to have lots of composition in them-he doesn't really stick with the traditional theme-solo-theme thing. His pieces have more of a sense to me of a series of short related themes that connect the solos. The orchestrations seem more complicated than Mazurek's- Rivers likes to play the memebers of his orchestra off each other but he composes for them more then I think Guy does with the BGNO.
None of the above is meant to indicate a preference. I enjoyed listening to them all and thinking about the differences. Mazurek has some lovely computer effects that he brings to the first piece which would be nice to hear him do more of in whatever he does next.
Anyway, I enjoyed having a musical project for the day. Thanks.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 7, 2007 10:32:20 AM PST
Autonomeus says:
Thanks Greg! That gives me a pretty good idea -- interesting isn't it that writing reviews gives you a sense of the different possibilites for trying to describe music -- comparing it to other music is only one way, but sometimes it really helps to situate the unknown by reference to the known. I recently discovered Guy's New Orchestra, and I'm into it. Another avant big band I forgot to mention is the Globe Unity Orchestra -- have you heard any of their stuff? Fantastic.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 7, 2007 1:25:58 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 12, 2011 12:48:35 AM PST
greg taylor says:
Absolutely love the GUO. Another group that I haven't listened to for a while. Today I got out the Italian Instabile Orch., the ICP and some Carla Bley to sort of keep the project going. Actually, I find it very hard to sometimes describe the differences. Especially when someone like Guy or Cecil Taylor or Butch Morris uses such personal techniques of notating and composing. Someone on Amazon (was it you?) turned me on to Morgan's Twentieth Century Music which has been a big help in hearing what.e.g., Xenakis is doing in some of his compositions. It just helps to actually see the notation being used. I wish there was something like that for composers like Braxton, Threadgill, the guys mentioned above and others. Anyway, I am glad someone else likes the BGNO- listening to it yesterday reminded me just how extraordinary some of those musicians and musical relationships are. For example, think how lucky we all are that Evan Parker and Barry Guy have been colleagues for so long. Later.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 8, 2007 11:00:44 PM PST
Well done, Greg. I'm totally on board with your analysis. This is also one of my favorite discs. And I agree that there are fewer and fewer of this type of large project things being produced these days. By the way, not that it's really much like the ESO, but have you heard John Hollenbeck's Large Ensemble recording, A Blessing. That's one of my favs. Keep up the good work!
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