Daniel Hersog’s Night Devoid of Stars

Hersog NIGHT DEVOID OF STARS Cover

AwardNIGHT DEVOID OF STARS / HERSOG: Cloud Break. Motion. Makeshift Memorial. Night Devoid of Stars. KERN-HARBACH: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. HERSOG: Indelible. Song for Henrique / The Daniel Hersog Jazz Orchestra: Michael Kim, Brad Turner, Derry Byrne, Jocelyn Waugh, tpt/fl-hn; Rod Murray, Jim Hopson, Brian Harding, tb; Sharman King, bs-tb; Chris Startup, a-sax/cl; Michael Braverman, a-sax/s-sax/cl; Noah Preminger, t-sax; Tom Keenlyside, t-sax/fl/pic/a-fl; Ben Henriques, bar-sax/bs-cl; Frank Carlberg, pno; James Meger, bs; Michael Sarin, dm / Cellar Music, no number

Daniel Hersog is a Canadian jazz composer who directs a 16-piece big band. I’m not sure if American tenor saxist Noah Preminger, a noted star in his own country, is a regular member of the band or was just a sit-in for this session, but the music here is clearly top-notch.

Scheduled for release on June 12, Night Devoid of Stars features one older classic, Jerome Kern’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, amidst six originals by Hersog. We start out with Cloud Break, an uptempo piece in which the unusual melodic line goes through several harmonic changes within its first 16 bars and continues into a B theme with rising chromatic harmony. Hersog’s orchestration is more conventional than the piece, yet he does come up with some interesting use of the eight-man brass section and he manages to include solo spots that enhance rather than intrude on the overall composition. Everything seems to be of a piece: introduction, theme A, theme B, transition, and then solos using similar or different underlying harmonies. During the rather extended trumpet solo, he even throws in some whole tone scales in the background. Some of the writing here reminded me of late Stan Kenton, some of early Toshiko Akiyoshi, but all of it sounded original and quite brilliant. Around the five-minute mark, he suddenly shifts gears downward in tempo and introduces variants on the original harmony for Preminger’s tenor sax solo.

Motion has a Gospel-like feel, but in an ambiguous beat. Hersog states in the liner notes that the piece was inspired by Keith Jarrett. I was left scratching my head, however, because to me it sounded much better than anything the vastly overrated Jarrett has ever written. Frank Carlberg’s soulful piano is the first soloist up here, and again Hersog has managed to weave the solo spot into the overall fabric of the piece. I also liked the way the rhythm section worked together as a unit rather than “doing their own thing” and thus going out on a different limb from the rest of the band. Although a very fine solo in a soul mood, Preminger’s ensuing saxophone spot tops it in terms of content and the way he complements the piece, using scalar structures and extended chords to fashion his solo. The final written ensemble, using clarinet and flute, is also quite interesting.

Makeshift Memorial is a somber piece in a real Adagio tempo, introduced by the solo piano. The two clarinets introduce the simple but elegiac theme, following which the alto flute is heard briefly, but the bulk of this track belongs to Preminger’s eloquent playing. He begins with simple statements complementing the theme before moving into an exploratory solo. Muted trombone and the rhythm section fill in behind him for color. After a dead stop at 7:03, the brasses come back in, first the trumpets and then the trombones as well. Night Devoid of Stars combines a feeling of tension with a feeling of exuberance in a very unusual manner, but for the most part this is the most uninhibited swinger on the record. Again, Preminger dominates the track with his tenor sax. Before he is finished, Turner enters on trumpet to duel with him for a while before striking out on his own as the tempo increases slightly behind him. Following his solo, we hear a muted-trumpet-with-flute-and-sax ensemble, very much in the Toshiko Akiyoshi mold.

Hersog’s arrangement of Kern’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is, in his own words, “a macabre treatment” alternating between “lush, warm ensemble sounds and Carlberg’s devastatingly beautiful solo piano.” It is indeed a fascinating arrangement, combining some Eddie Sauter-like elements with bitonality and a nice flute solo over the brass ensemble while the trombones and baritone sax are scored way down low. Throughout much of it, Carlberg plays in a sparse, minimal fashion, but for one crashing, atonal chord at 5:46.

Indelible opens with an insistent repeated piano figure, very much like the opening of Beethoven’s “Waldstein” piano sonata, but quickly morphs into a medium-slow tempo with a quasi-Latin feel to it. Tom Keenlyside then has a strange but impressive alto flute solo, with the woodwinds swirling around it in his second chorus. Eventually we hear the clarinets, followed by soft brass figures. Preminger then enters with his customarily good solo as the harmony shifts behind him with augmented chords.

We end with Song for Henrique, dedicated to Hersog’s friend Enrique Eisenmann and his “love for Bach, free jazz and Middle Eastern music. This piece includes those worlds moving from one to the next.” Once the out-of-tempo piano interlude is finished, Hersog sets up a quasi-belly-dance rhythm in a minor mode, followed by a Bach-like interlude for the piano with flute and clarinet, then biting trumpets as we move into a nice, coochy rhythm. Carlberg plays a really interesting solo as various elements of Middle Eastern music are mixed in, followed by an out-of-tempo free jazz solo by Preminger. As the music reaches a fever pitch, trumpeter Michael Kim blasts the band’s way to the finish.

This is an outstanding album, very highly recommended.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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