Fire! Orchestra

October 6, 2018

More Fun Please!
PNL Records PNL040

Michael Moss/Accidental Orchestra
4th Stream Records ERG 10013

Two CD variations of how best to perform Jazz compositions-improvisations with very big bands also bring into play questions of proper brevity and length. Featuring 29 Scandinavian musicians who are part of both his large unit plus an ensemble described as Intuitive People, Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s More Fun, Please is a 33-minute plus conduction which while integrating solo and group passages references several strands of music to make its points.

Meanwhile HELIX the 22-piece ensemble consisting of some of New York’s most accomplished sound explorers was gathered to perform veteran Free Jazz multi instrumentalist Michael Moss’ multi-hued compositions. While its nearly 36-minuutes exemplary interpretation of “The Old One”, a five-part suite brings out singular and harmonized high points from almost all concerned, he decided not to stop there. Added is a 20½ -minute run through of Moss’ “See Sharp or Be Flat/C# or Bb” which is supposed to weave allusions to several Rock, Jazz and Funk classics into the exposition. There’s a certain élan that animates the performance, but as a more-or-less standard big band performance, it makes the high quality of “The Old One” shine ever more brightly.

Essentially the premise of “More Fun, Please”, which includes conduction from electronics manipulator Tommi Keránen and trumpeter Richard Köster as well as Nilssen-Love, is to create an ambulatory program with brief references to other sounds without being overwhelmed by them. That means that high-intensity group passages are the signal flags along the wavy journey, while for instance formalist piccolo peeps break free from distended orchestral riffs, or a child-like ditty propelled by rustic fiddling. Moving the theme from instrument to instrument, saxophone shudders, trumpet buzzes and a courtly duet between French horn and accordion also make their presence(s) felt. Finally, at the mid-point, after a pronounced slow down, electronic juddering at the very bottom presage instrumental toughness as animated tuba snorts, brass-section puffs and a bare-bones flute line create enough dissonance to suggest a (Morton) Feldman-like cohesive aural landscape that shifts enough so that in contrast soundboard echoes from the pianist stand out like needles shoved through a yielding cloth. Finally, cumulative blowing from the 10 horn players is followed by a thin violin line. While the output sounds more disjointed than united, the shifts in emphasis and tonal realization make the musical journey engrossing.

So is it too with the five parts of “The Old One”, Albert Einstein’s term for God, though the divine affiliation doesn’t prevent a devilish fluid groove to underlie the narrative. As early as “The Old One I: Inception” reflective lead trumpet work from Waldron Mahdi Ricks, walloping bass pressure from Larry Roland and a climax featuring high-energy flutist Elliot Levin maintains the swing feel. With succeeding sequences working up to and then retreating from crescendos the pace is first strengthened by conga-like rhythms from percussionists Warren Smith and Michael Wimberley, explodes on the penultimate “The Old One : IV: Bardo Thödol” with smearing contortions from trombonist Steve Swell, hunting-horn-like echoes from Vincent Chancey and Arco scratched sand sweeps from the six-piece string section that teases and shakes the narrative and both sums up and expands on the previous Klangfarbenmelodie during “The Old One: V: The Mind of God”. Almost the same length of the previous tracks combined, the expansive track allows harmonized French horn and strings to produce a reflective tremolo lines that judders with drama as it move up and down the scale. Levin introduces a so-called classical element to his flute exposition, fortified by Richard Keene’s nasal oboe cries, the formalism alluded to in the suite’s introduction returns musically, as do more dissonant slurps and trills produced by a brass choir plus rolls and pops from the percussionists and drummer Chuck Fertal that relates to the rhythmic middle section, Finally even harsh vibrations from the string section, percussion and horns is replaced by a calming sequence conveyed by pianist Steve Cohn that melds the shattered, textures into one blended sound from all 22 pieces. Although the following “See Sharp or Be Flat/C# or Bb” is supposed to allude to other well-known songs only “Bag’s Groove” stands out enough to be recognized. Besides that and some notable solos, including swift double-stopping from violist Stephanie Griffin, screechy trumpeting, low-pitched French horn snarls and some clean but retrogressive chording from one of the guitarists, the performance is more gracious than ground-breaking.

Both CDs demonstrate what can be accomplished when organizing super-sized improvising bands. Yet Nilssen-Love’s conduction stands out for its ability to slot sympathetic tones and pulses throughout without losing the structural thread. Moss’s “The Old One” composition does so as well, even as it evolves over many sections. Yet because of it reaching that sonic high point, the second tune is literally superfluous.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: HELIX: 1. The Old One I: Inception 2. The Old One II: Bridge 3. The Old One: III: Qabbala 4. The Old One: IV: Bardo Thödol 5. The Old One: V: The Mind of God 6. See Sharp or Be Flat/C# or Bb

Personnel: HELIX: Waldron Mahdi Ricks (trumpet); Steve Swell (trombone); Vincent Chancey (French horn); Elliot Levin (flute, tenor saxophone); Ras Moshe Burnett (soprano, tenor saxophones); Michael Moss (B-flat clarinet); Michael Lytle (bass clarinet); Richard Keene (oboe); Jason Kao Hwang, Rosi Hertlein, Fung Chem Hwei (violin); Stephanie Griffin (viola); Lenny Mims, Carol Buck (cello); Steve Cohn (piano) Billy Stein, Rick Iannacone (guitar); Larry Roland (bass); Chuck Fertal (drums); Badal Roy (tabla); Warren Smith (percussion, vibraphone); Michael Wimberly (djembe, African bells, percussion)

Track Listing: More: 1. More Fun, Please

Personnel: More: Richard Köster (trumpet); Mats Äleklint, Mats Hägerlind (trombone); Edo Hayek (French horn); Eirik Sanner (euphonium); Per Åke Holmlander, Magnus Breivik Løvseth (tuba); Klaus Holm (alto saxophone, Bb clarinet); Reindert Spanhove (tenor saxophone); Julie Helgeland Davidsen (flute, piccolo); Torfinn Hofstad (violin): Tatia Chikovani, Joao Grilo, Shayila Mahestuti (piano); Ásta Soffia Thorrgeirsdóttir, Mykola Sheremeta (accordion); Markus Dvergastein (guitar); Maria Quevedo Meloni, Rebekka Eikefet (cello); Jon Rune Strøm, Christian Meaas Svendsen, Torstein Johansen, Håkon Bjørgo (bass); Andreas Wildhagen, Paal Nilssen-Love (drums); Torgrim Halse (percussion); Tommi Keránen (electronics)