Large Unit

Ana
PNL Records PNL 033

Zlatko Kaučič Cerkno Jubileum Orchestra

In Memory of Boštjan Cvek

Klopotec IZK CD 040

Large ensemble organizers are comparable to climbers of Mount Everest: they continue to brave the preparation and discomfort that goes into formulating the ascent for the fulfillment of the completed task. Still despite 21st century socio-economic considerations big bands are still formulated, but with the proviso that for every touring unit literally 100 others come together briefly for a particular program. The ensembles here, each coincidentally led by a percussionist, reflect both side of this equation. Subsidized by merchandise sales, government aid and his own gumption, in between his many other commitments, Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love has kept his Large Unit on the road since 2013. Ana is a distinctive part of its discography because his three compositions add Brazilian rhythms played by Brazilian percussionists to his band already made up of musicians from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

In Memory of Boštjan Cvek is another example of cross border interaction; the featured musicians are from Italy and Slovenia. But while Ana is a boisterous celebration of South American pulses, the other CD by a 12-piece ad-hoc ensemble has a more sombre genesis. Put together by Slovenian percussionist Zlatko Kaučič, who composed and conducted the seven tracks, but doesn’t play on them, it’s a threnody to the recently deceased organizer of the Cerkno Jazz Festival. Not that the imaginative project is lachrymose. Instead it’s reminiscent of a traditional New Orleans Jazz funeral, with a spritely Second Line-like culmination along with a melancholy exposition.

Most of the tunes slide between the parameters Kaučič has set up with even the introductory tracks encompassing Sun Ra-like Arkestra freak-outs, honking reeds, Luigi Vitale’s vibraphone resonations and sharpened trumpet work from Gabriele Cancelli. Morse Code-like judders and oscillating near-signal-processed lines from Giorgio Pacorig’s electric piano join with two drummers’ back beats and Vitja Balžalorsky’s shaking guitar licks to advance a Hard Rock-like hook during “Kozmično Doživetje” and “Bombarduon”, with what could be “Paint it Black” echoes sneaking into the choruses. But there are enough mid-range grace notes from the trumpeter and trills from Massimo de Mattia’s half-legit/half leading-edge flute strategy to stop the polyphonic themes from abandoning improvisation for pop rhythms.

Reflecting Cvek’s – and by extension Kaučič’s – non-genre specific view of music, this concept is carried out throughout the suite as if the band members are sailors in a merchant ship taking items from one port of call to another. Aggressive smacks from dual drummer Vid Drašler and Marko Lasič define the head of “Kekčeva Pesem” until the rhythm girth is punctured by dawdling reed split tones if they were knives thrown at a target. Latterly the deflated combination is perked up from a pseudo-funeral march by de Mattia’s popping flute echoes.

Stop-start string twanging, electronic whizzes and the horns coalescing into a jaunty Slavic-styled melody on the concluding “Srečko Lesica” extend and confirm the stop-time tropes which have been present like untapped veins of gold within earlier tunes. Following an expansive instance of angled string stretching, probably by bassist Giovanni Maier, alternating sections of tutti explosions and solo injections give way to the final sequence where the funeral march is surmounted by a Baltic dance

Dancing sequences, this time affiliated with Brazilian percussion are the leitmotifs of Ana. But while the rhythms played by the two South American percussionists are distinct in themselves, at points they appear to exist in a parallel universe to the Jazz-improv impulses of the other 12 players. On both the first and final track some contrapuntal blending takes place between the hand drummers and the foghorn-like honks from tubaists Per Åke Holmlander and Børre Mølstad. But what’s initially just incongruous, like seeing a person wearing both a Rio de Janeiro bikini and an Oslo trooper-style fur hat, becomes disconnected when the narratives speeds up. In both cases while some Latinesque tropes are sensed more than heard, the stop-time tracks are more oriented towards Jazz and Free Music. What then stands out are alto saxophone cries mated with buzzing electronics from turnatablist Tommi Keranen and an extended trumpet solo from Thomas Johansson that is both harmonic and heraldic. A deconstruction of the narrative via Klaus Holm’s baritone saxophone on the concluding “Circle in the Round” produces a melodic welding of Latin American percussion, slapping strings and flute trills from Julie Kjaer.

Ana’s massive (28¼-minute) focal point, the give-away titled “Riofun”, aims for a comparable admixture, but again like glimpsing different parts of a landscape from a moving train, a complete musical picture never appears. Introduced by backbeat cooperation among Celio de Carvalho and Paulinho Bicolor on ethnic instruments and Andreas Wildhagen and Nilssen-Love playing standard percussion, the Hispanic rhythms are then obscured by other players’ motifs, reappearing audibly for one brief section near the ending. Instead as the tempo intensifies into a swinging pulse, the chief points of interest are parallel counterpoint among two or more instruments from the regular Large Unit. Hippo wadding tuba tones face off against high-pitched reed screeds; melodic guitar licks float unencumbered on top of a blitzkrieg rhythm attack from the two drummers, and an R&B-like slur from one of the alto saxophonists evolves alongside more cerebral string slapping from one of the two bassists. Downward plunger notes from trombonist Mats Äleklint and then the tuba players create a warm interlude that mixes marching music and Mariachi; preserving the audacious improvisational cred while subtly referencing Brazilian echoes.

Large-group fanciers should find much to like in these exercises in cross-border big band blends. Overall though, Kaučič’s sadder singular purpose is more stable and stronger in execution than Nilssen-Love’s attempt at North-South dialogue.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Memory: 1. Pasluš Boštjan 2. To Paul 3. Kozmično Doživetje 4. Bombarduon 5. Na Svoji Zemlji 6. Kekčeva Pesem 7. Srečko Lesica

Personnel: Memory: Gabriele Cancelli (trumpet); Massimo de Mattia (flutes); Boštjan Simon (alto saxophone); Cene Resnik (tenor saxophone); Mimo Cogliandro (bass clarinet); Giorgio Pacorig (electric piano); Vitja Balžalorsky (guitar); Luigi Vitale (vibraphone); Giovanni Maier, Jošt Drašler (bass); Vid Drašler, Marko Lasič (drums, percussion) and Zlatko Kaučič (conductor)

Track Listing: Ana: 1. Ana 2. Riofun 3. Circle in the Round

Personnel: Ana: Thomas Johansson (trumpet); Mats Äleklint (trombone); Per Åke Holmlander, Børre Mølstad (tuba); Julie Kjaer (alto saxophone and flute); Klaus Holm (alto and baritone saxophones); Ketil Gutvik (guitar); Jon Rune Strøm, Christian Meaas Svendsen (bass, electric bass); Andreas Wildhagen, Paal Nilssen-Love (drums, percussion); Paulinho Bicolor (cuica, triangle, tamborim); Celio de Carvalho (congas, bongos, tamborim, pandeiro, berimbau, caxixi, alfaia); Tommi Keranen (electronics)