Onze Heures Onze Orchestra

Vol 1
Onzeheurs Onze ONZ020

Matt Mitchell

A Pouting Grimace

Pi Recordings 71

Having a singular, original vision is often cited as the best way to create outstanding music, more so when, as on these sessions here, concepts can be communicated to a large ensemble. Yet individualism doesn’t necessarily edge out a collegial approach. New York-based keyboardist Matt Mitchell for instance obviously aimed to create an original take on contemporary sounds that mixed notated, improvisational and electronic tropes, and he rounded up a dozen of the city’s most accomplished players to interpret his 10 compositions. Yet all too often on A Pouting Grimace, the composer and his associates appear to be leaping from one idea to another, exposing a variety of concepts, but with no logical continuum that draws together the detonating themes.

The Paris-based Onze Heures Onze Orchestra (OHOO) on the other hand is an outgrowth of the collective of the same name, with a dozen OHOO members featured on each of Vol 1’s seven tracks. Seven different composers are represented, with the writers broadly influenced by Steve Reich, Alvin Lucier, György Ligeti, Conlon Nancarrow and other 20th and 21st Century avatars. Yet somehow this groupthink translates into tracks which maintain individuality but still correlate enough to confirm a shared vision.

An inventive and quick-thinking soloist and improvisational stand out in the bands of, among others, Tim Berne, Dave Douglas and John Hollenbeck, one can’t fault Mitchell for wanting his first large group effort to highlight his musical versatility. But regarding just his playing, the output ranges from puffing electro-acoustic motifs that adumbrate some tracks, to intense, swinging piano coloration to tremolo keyboard washes. It’s the equivalent of dumping toys from a box onto the ground and trying to play with them all at the same time. Instruments more used in New Music such as Sara Schoenbeck’s bassoon, Anna Weber’s bass flute and Katie Andrews’ harp are given space to personalize the compositions, as are Dan Weiss’ tabla and Ches Smith’s percussion collection. But coherence is sometimes lost in jagged counterpoint between say bass flute and tabla or electronics processing and double bass thumps. And the electronics suggest place markers rather than compositional challenges.

Individually there are high points, as on “mini alternate”, where the power portrayed by Scott Robinson’s bass saxophone snorts is kept fluid and forward moving with massed percussion patters and clatters and sliding piano lines. The most theatrical of the tracks, moves from grisaille tincture from near-formal piano and percussion work, to graceful harp interludes, climaxing with a balladic take from flute and keyboard toughened by tabla smacks. Slow-paced and decorous “gluts” reconstitutes a Jazz piano trio with walking bass from Kim Cass and slapping beats from kit drummer Kate Gentile. Riffs from bass flute and bassoon thicken the narrative to the extent that a satisfying connection is reached. “ooze”, the final track sutures a corrosive piano line, flute puffs and a hint of vibes with a blurry ring modulator-like sound. Yet the spacey electronic tremor links up and complements the distant electronic vibrations of introductory track “bulb terminus”.

Able to add a soupçon of unselfconscious swing to its contemporary explorations, OHOO keeps its tracks consistently flowing, with section work and solos making space for counterpart and challenges among the players. Especially evident in this respect is the concluding “Autoportrait avec Ohana et Albeniz (Merci Ligeti),” composed by Alban Darche and featuring the furry textures of his baritone saxophone. Moderato and clean, the piece is carried slickly and immaculately by Darche’s (Gerry) Mulligan-like skills with the other horns filling in the details as it ambulates. Moving from dreamy all the way up to nimble tempos, most of the tracks are characterized by careful arrangements reminiscent of Oliver Nelson or Graham Collier, where the layered horn work is frequently interrupted by grace notes from soloists, and where on occasion the band’s linear sway includes rhythm section forays into Rock-like, but always appropriate beats. An instance of this is “Raja”, where well-modulated section work stretches the narrative enough to set up a resonating vibes solo by Stephan Caracci completed by broken tones from keyboardist Alexandre Herer and grounded patterning from drummer Franck Vaillant.

Other tracks are directed through processional and almost ecclesiastical piano chording, languid melody emphasis from some of the brass players and hard-blowing challenges from the saxophonists. Divided between Julien Pontvianne’s clarinet whistling and the spluttering bites from one of the alto saxophonists – probably Stéphane Payen who composed the piece – “Fanfare pour Denis” is another stand out. Ambling along with vamps that speed up and slow down, it may lack an official fanfare, but makes up for that with sonic coloration encompassing deep, dark blasts from the brass section, scaly, scary split tones from the reeds and climaxes with downward vibrating slaps from bassist Joachim Govin.

Large group musical creation isn’t easy and Mitchell’s efforts to increase the scope of his creations beyond singular Jazz big band or small so-called classical formats are undoubtedly sincere. Unfortunately even with the massed talent on board the result appears to be running off in too many directions simultaneously. A firmer, less eccentric game plan is called for next time out. With a firmer grip on genre mixing, the OHOO has created a fine, swinging session which is impressive yet also lacks heart-stopping moments. Then again this is only Vol 1. Vol 2 may fill in whatever gaps in the musical architecture that still exist.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Pouting: 1. bulb terminus 2. plate shapes 3. mini alternate 4. brim 5. deal sweeteners 6. squalid ink 7. gluts 8. heft 9. sick fields 10. ooze

Personnel: Pouting: Anna Webber (flute, alto flute, bass flute); Jon Irabagon (sopranino and soprano saxophones); Scott Robinson (bass saxophone, contrabass clarinet); Ben Kono (oboe, English horn); Sara Schoenbeck (bassoon); Matt Mitchell (piano, Prophet 6, electronics); Kim Cass (bass); Katie Andrews (harp); Patricia Brennan (vibraphone, marimba); Ches Smith (vibraphone, glockenspiel, bongos, timpani, gongs, Haitian tanbou, percussion); Kate Gentile (drums, gongs, percussion); Dan Weiss (tabla); Tyshawn Sorey (conductor)

Track Listing: Vol 1: 1. Xp31* 2. Yog Sothoth 3. Raja 4. Proverb 5. This Is Where the Sea Ends 6. Fanfare pour Denis 7. Autoportrait avec Ohana et Albeniz (Merci Logeti)^%

Personnel: Vol 1: Olivier Laisney (trumpet); Michel Massot*, Johan Blanc [except track 1](trombone) Magic Malik (flute)*; Stéphane Payen, Denis Guivarc'h (alto saxophone); Julien Pontvianne (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Alban Darche (baritone saxophone)%; Alexandre Herer (piano, fender Rhodes); Stephan Caracci (vibraphone, percussion); Florent Nisse*^, Joachim Govin [tracks 2-6] (bass); Thibault Perriard*^, Franck Vaillant [tracks 2-6] (drums)