Heh! Ya gotta love the death's-head variation on Kokopeli gracing Culture's cover, a mixing of the celebration of life and aesthetics with La Dia De Los Muertos, but don't take the wry one-off as grim, as John Vanore is anything but, even when exotically brooding, as in the opening to the Easter Island Suite. A trumpet player but, more importantly, an excellent composer and arranger, Vanore embraces tradition while bending it backwards more than a little, and one swiftly discovers that the bass guitar (Craig Thomas) plays a HUGE part in his sensibilities, alternating between up-front narrative device and rhythm staple. This predilection provides a very solid foundation while allowing great range, in which his sax players, Michael Mee and Bob Howell, disport with a high degree of literacy combining melodics with dazzling improv.
FAME readers will already know of my recent delight in locating saxists Joel Frahm and Chris Alpiar, and Mee and Howell slot right beside those guys, dexterous, colorful, confident, and, above all, always thinking, even above Vanore's charts, which afford them plenty of room to do so. With 14 regulars and 2 sit-ins, this is big band music, but it's ratcheted up and down to provide many flavors. Broad vistas abound throughout the disc, often preceded by tight, dense, multi-voiced harmonies wending through the melodies like dazzlingly bedecked streets letting out onto wide open parkways or even a desert you never knew was lurking just outside the county line.
I'm telling you, though, Craig Thomas' presence is pleasantly confounding. He's most often the literal spine of this ensemble, and I've only rarely heard the bass presented quite this way before. Recordist Richard King did a brilliant job placing him in such context in various songs, 'cause it had to be a bitch indexing the instrument so perfectly. Thomas is not often all that complex, but his choices in patterns and lines are just dazzlingly effective, kind of like John Paul Jones with the early Led Zeppelin or Colin Edwin with Porcupine Tree ca Sky Moved Sideways…or, to travel over to another instrument, Paul Desmond on sax: perfectly selected notes, heady stuff.
All good jazz traveling outside trad parameters is, let's face it, neoclassical music, and that's quite apparent on this disc. Catch the forlorn French horn intro to the aforementioned Easter Island Suite: Corelli woulda given his eyeteeth to have written it, Satie would've sat back in his velvet chair, nodding, raising another snifter of brandy to his lips, smiling, uttering a sigh of satisfaction as Toulouse-Lautrec leaned forward, rapt. And the entire three-movement track is likewise craftily structured, a tableau of subtleties and brazen statements, chapters in an earthily unearthly montage. Speaking of Satie, Vanore's Mompou is a tribute to one of Erik's spiritual/aesthetic confederates, taking the famed composer's own work (Cancion #5) but warping it way out of shape, Bob Howell's outrageous sax work particularly riveting, in order to dredge underlying thoughts and architecture, a grin and a wink from one composer to another. It's short, a coda more than anything else, but, God almighty, what a way to end such an adventurous disc!
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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