If you like Wynton Marsalis, Maynard Ferguson, Chuck Mangione, old Blue Note, Impulse, and the welter of efforts that procured the middle-to-modern streetwise jazz orchestral sound, you're sure to love this one. Just bass, piano, drums and lots of horns, Echoes of Ethnicity is a semi-big band blowout of rich melodics and improv...and the keyboards by Rick Roe are nothing to sneeze at either, as the first cut, 4 Newk, demonstrates, alongside burbling scampering basswork. Drummer Donald Edwards and percussionist Kevin Kaiser are likewise golden, keeping the rhythm section jumping.
That, then, leaves the horns, led by Derrick Gardner (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Rob Dixon (tenor sax), which are as thick, luxuriously tangled, interlocked, and boisterous as you please. Solos galore and complicated interplay mark every measure of this vaulting collection (10 long workouts), arranged to a fare thee well chiefly by Derrick but also brother Vincent (2) and Dixon (2). This is serious jazz, not the ersatz New Age sonic bromides you hear on NPR between stretches of Centrist propaganda. These guys are impeccably tight, not a missed off-beat or quarter tone between 'em. You could build a stealth jet fighter with precision like this.
Mercury Blvd. showcases nearly the whole armada, with its echoing refrains, contrasts of tempo and texture, morphing resolves, blend of old and new, and dexterous showmanship in group context. It's a tad more balladic, as is Autumn in New York and Crystal Stair, but songs like that oft provide a keener insight into individual voicing. With them, the stunning denser work is all the more appreciated. The band has stepped sideways from its hard bop platform to reach into other traditions while maintaining the breakneck pace and angularity of the heydays of Mingus, Kirk, and the abstracter brains of the time.
You can never get enough great bop or big band, and Echoes of Ethnicity collides the two for a release that's letter perfect in every possible way. The years are long and tough between anyone willing to write and arrange for work akin to Don Ellis' and Gil Evans on the one hand and Strata Institute and Marsalis on the other, so eyes are eternally peeled and ears forever athirst. Consider this, then, a major event.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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