May 27, 2016
Driff Records CD 1502
Translating musical ideas from a small group to a big band involves more than merely writing more parts. Like scientists who evoke new laboratory procedures to properly isolate unique phenomenon, Bathysphere’s two composers and Spinflex’s three approached the seven tracks on each of these CDs with methodologies that take into account the variegated colors available from multiple players as well as the resultant juiced up solo strength. Again like researchers whose breakthroughs are predicated on earlier experiments, the CDs’ stimulating shape(s) are the result of imaginative arrangements that take the individual bands’ identities a few steps forward.
Directed by Greek-born pianist Pandelis Karayorgis and Dutch-born multi-reedist Jorrit Dijkstra, now both based near Boston, Bathysphere is an outgrowth of the numerous combos the two have led singly or together over the years. Named for a deep-sea submersible that set diving records in 1934, the 15-piece band is imbued with a Duke Ellington-like approach in terms of relaxed movement, with building block arrangements, crisply efficient like some of George Russell’s work. Throughout, section interaction and artistic – but not effete – detailing from the soloists is emphasized. Considering some of the players include those such as trombonist Jeb Bishop, saxophonist Tony Malaby and cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, all of whom know how to wring emotion from a set up, solo smarts are maintained. .
Coincidentally Bishop is one of the seven foreign players brought in to beef up the already existing Amsterdam quintet Spinflex band to Maximus proportions. At a dozen strong, this large group allows the band’s composer/arrangers – German saxophonist/clarinetist Tobias Klein, Portuguese bassist Goncalo Almeida and Dutch guitarist Jasper Stadhouders – more sound screens on which to project their ideas. With two drummers, electric guitar and bass, plus five brass players in the group, the performances often tread the fine line between excess and exceptional. At its subtlest Spinflex’s Maximus pieces could be cerebral outtakes from the book of Bob Graettinger; at its most exaggerated the band worships at the altar of Maynard Ferguson in that the tunes go beyond the range of Kentonisms to the blaring near-Rock/Pop bands that trumpeter led in the 1970s.
Luckily that gaudy overflow is at a minimum, but each composer reveals in it in varying degrees. “Keep the Viper Alive” for instance, the one tune by Almeida, who is also part of the Portuguese-Canadian LAMA trio, is as stuck in the upper registers as insects are to fly paper. The theme rumbles with the blitzkrieg authority of a troop train, abetted by guitar flanges and pseudo land-mine explosions from dual drummers Philipp Moser and Onno Govaert. The only respite is dagger-like thrusts from one of the trumpeters, perhaps Belgian Bart Maris. Conversely, Klein, who also composes chamber music, showcases the large ensemble’s dual personality. The concluding “Mongibello”, for example, is closer to Zappa than Zorn, with rooster-crowing-like introduction and aggression in its theme, which inflates without diminishing. Janus-like however, “Ost” is the very model of imaginative arranging with the narrative sloping from elevated to low tones like water seeping down naturally formed rock shelving. Teetering timbres from all concerns are directed into chromatic lines as if section leaders are sheep dogs with a recalcitrant flock, finally herding all textures into an aggressively low-key finale.
Stadhouders, who also co-leads Cactus Truck and plays with overseas improvisers like Ken Vandermark, reflects this musical bipolarism in his tunes as well. As frenetic timbres circulate during “Knoest”, as a mosaic consisting of martial drums, brass gas and reed sneers, the spectacular ending built on piccolo-trumpet-like screeches is presaged by a heartfelt Johnny Hodges -like alto saxophone solo from Klein. Taken at a speedier tempo, “Birch” matches Stadhouders’ string spraying thematic development with intense rifle-fire-like interjections that include hiccupping tenor saxophone honks from Italy’s Edoardo Marraffa, woodpecker like trumpet batting and a final total band crescendo. Expressing much of the tune’s poignancy are textural elaborations between Bishop’s briny trombone slurs and Pascal Rousseau’s tuba resonations.
Bishop’s soloing is also one of the draws of the other CD. Overall however, Bathysphere appears more sophisticated in execution than Spinflex. It may be the more Jazz-affiliated arrangements, the ensembles size of 15 instead of 12, but it’s also because the chordal instrument is co-leader Karayorgis’ piano. Besides contributing four thoughtful themes, Karayorgis is a fluid stylist. On the introductory “Sounding Line” for example, his ringing chords are like buoy bells clearing the way for ocean liner traffic. The vessel is the band which vamps in a style closer to Ellington and Fletcher Henderson than more modern aggregations. Featured is strong brass work perhaps from Bynum or Forbes Graham that works in a quote from “Jitterbug Waltz”.
Besides the contemporary Stride-like stylings on show from the pianist, his other compositions encompass a combination of brass-led kicks and polyphonic smoothness. Sliding along as if the musicians’ parts are infused with sonic Vaseline, the CD’s title tune sparkles. Blending bubbling timbres from the six-person brass section and strumming from dual bassists Nate McBride and Jef Charland, Karayorgis’ glissandi bind the swing feel which is most distinctively expressed by Bishop’s plunger tones, hard clashes from drummer Luther Gray and some throat-clenching alto work from Dijkstra. Command of the Blues makes “Chip Log” equally outstanding. Contrasting piano textures maintain lyricism, Josiah Reibstein’s tuba blasts and the drummer’s shuffle beat deepen the bottom as Charlie Kohlhase’s baritone saxophone growls bring out a tensed Blues feeling.
Not to be outdone, Dijkstra’s initial tunes, “Funnel” and “Boter” include similar R&B-like attributes, mixed with wriggling, contemporary elements including the processed interpolations from Andrew Neumann’s analog electronics. Solo-wise Kohlhase or Malaby on tenor saxophone rip through the latter piece like a saw through a tree trunk, using sudden altissimo smears and unexpected register leaps as if he was Paul Gonsalves with Ellington or Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis with Count Basie.
Swinging or rocking, either one of these sessions is a noteworthy instance of large ensemble composing and, as importantly, interpretation.
Track Listing: Bathysphere: 1. Sounding Line 2. Funnel 3. Chip Log 4. Boter 5. Bathychord 6. Coelacanth 7. White Sea
Personnel: Bathysphere: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet); Forbes Graham, Daniel Rosenthal (trumpet); Jeb Bishop, Jeff Galindo (trombone); Josiah Reibstein (tuba); Tony Malaby (soprano, tenor saxophones); Jorrit Dijkstra (alto saxophone, lyricon, analog synthesizer); Seth Meicht (alto, tenor saxophones); Charlie Kohlhase (tenor, baritone saxophones); Pandelis Karayorgis (piano); Nate McBride, Jef Charland (bass); Luther Gray (drums); Andrew Neumann (analog electronics)
Track Listing: Maximus: 1. Bohemians Gone Extragalactic 2. Birch 3. Stupid Neckchain 4. Keep the Viper Alive 5. Knoest 6. Ost 7. Mongibello
Personnel: Maximus: Piotr Damasiewicz, Bart Maris (trumpet); Matthias Muche, Jeb Bishop (trombone); Pascal Rousseau (tuba, trumpet); Tobias Klein (alto saxophone, clarinet); Edoardo Marraffa (tenor saxophone); Josh Sinton (baritone saxophone); Jasper Stadhouders (guitar); Goncalo Almeida (bass); Philipp Moser, Onno Govaert (drums)