The JCA at the BPC (It’s a Boston Thing)

Cover_JCA_Orch_Live_at_BPC

RABSON: Romanople. Super Eyes – Private Heroes. HARRIS: The Latest. PILKINGTON: The Sixth Snake. HARRIS: Orange, Yellow, Blue.* KATZ: A Wallflower in the Amazon + / JCA (Jazz Composers’ Alliance) Orch.: Mike Peipman, Dan Rosenthal, Jerry Sabatini, tpt; Jason Camelio, Bob Pilkington, tb; David Harris, tb/tuba; Jim Mosher, Fr-hn; Mimi Rabson, Helen Sherrah-Davies, 5-str vln; Junko Fujiwara, cel; Hiro Honshuko, fl/EWI; Rick Stone, a-sax; Lihi Haruvi, a-sax/s-sax; Phil Scarff, t-sax/cl/s-sax; Melanie Howell-Brooks, bar-sax/bs-cl; Vessela Stoyanova, vib/marimba; Maxim Lubarsky, pno; Norm Zocher, gt; Jesse Williams, bs; Tony “Thunder” Smith, dm; Gilbert Mansour, perc; Rebecca Shrimpton, voc; Tino D’Agostino, *David Harris, +Darrell Katz, cond / JCA Recordings 1805 (live: Boston, October 4, 2018)

Although I like this album very much, I have to put in a small complaint. Please don’t assume that every reviewer knows your regional acronyms! The JCA part was explained on the back cover of the album as well as in the promo sheet as “Jazz Composers’ Alliance,” but it took me a while to find, in teeny tiny print on the album notes, that BPC stands for the Berklee Performance Center. Tell us where you’re playing and make it plain!

The album consists of six pieces, two written by violinist Mimi Rabson, two by David Harris, and one each by Bob Pilkington and Darrell Katz. The opener, Romanople, has an arresting 12/8 beat and the kind of Middle Eastern melodic line that one associates with Rabih Abou-Khalil…at least until the 2:10 mark, when we suddenly shift over to a sort of Middle Eastern polka, complete with tuba playing the bass line, which them turns into Klezmer with Phil Scarff playing the clarinet…followed in turn by a slow, free jazz interlude. One thing you’ve got to say for the JCA, they are one wildly eclectic bunch. And I love it! Although cellist Junko Fujiwara does indeed play an improvised solo, this is largely a through-composed piece and a good one. Its eclecticism reminded me very much of the kind of music that the Willem Breuker Kollektief played in the 1980s and ‘90s. Perhaps fittingly, it explodes in a free jazz free-for-all, with every musician for him or herself before the violin returns to finish it off.

The Latest, by trombone/tuba player David Harris, starts out with soft wind and brass mixtures playing a slow melodic line. The bass comes in playing double time while the top line continues, then piano and drums suddenly turn it into a medium-tempo swinger with a Latin beat. The development section includes a wordless vocal by Rebecca Shrimpton and a bass clarinet solo by Melanie Howell-Brooks. Harris explains that he used the pentatonic scale in this work as a nod to his love of Thai music, and although he uses no traditional melody he uses the Thai practice of adding new textures and phrases to the repeating melody. Once again, I want to point out, the composition is itself the star of the show here despite solos by violinist Melanie Howell-Brooks and guitarist Norm Zocher (the latter playing in a disgusting rock style that absolutely ruined the piece for me while he was performing).

Next up is trombonist Bob Pilkington’s The Sixth Snake, which starts out with soft vibes, bass and drums before going into a smeared slow motif played by the trombones overlapping one another. Pilkington admits that this piece began its life as a composition exercise using a number sequence, but he completely reworked it to create this music. Eventually the trombones (now joined, I think, by one trumpet) play a pleasant if ambiguous melody; the piano softly but surely doubles the tempo in the background while the foreground remains the same; a bit of a soft rock beat enters the picture (again, folks…stop putting rock music in jazz. It doesn’t belong. R&B beat, fine; that started out as a jazz beat. Rock beat, no; I don’t care what the hell Miles Davis and the Brecker Brothers were up to in the 1970s, it was an aberration and it doesn’t fit). Things then slow down for an out-of-tempo piano solo by Maxim Lubarsky, kind of nice but somewhat meandering for my taste. After going pretty much nowhere for a while, Lubarsky finally stops and the trombones re-enter with their theme. Pilkington himself plays a nice, burred solo. By and large, however, I found this piece rather static, in part due to the recurring rock beat, but Lihi Haruvi’s soprano sax solo is really awful: whiny, repetitive, and saying absolutely nothing. Do yourself a favor and just skip this track.

David Harris’ Orange, Yellow, Blue starts off, oddly enough, in the same vein as The Sixth Snake except that here we have the trumpets playing the slow motif instead of trombones. This morphs into an irregular-meter beat with a Latin touch to it. I think I also heard Shrimpton’s voice singing along with the high-lying melodic line that follows, after which Dan Rosenthal plays a very good trumpet solo. Then, alas, we again move into a rock beat. It morphs into a Middle East sort of rhythm, but again back to a rock beat.

Music lesson for the JCA: rock beat ≠ jazz beat.

Darrell Katz’ A Wallflower in the Amazon uses a text by his late wife Paula Tatarunis. This is a truly strange, impressionistic piece that opens with violin, cello and muted trumpet playing atonal figures. The text tells of a bookish but intrepid person’s visit to the Amazon jungle. Although Rebecca Shrimpton has a fine voice, I had trouble understanding several of the lyrics and thus couldn’t get much out of them, but the music is utterly fascinating. This is clearly one of the finest pieces on the entire album; even the solos are good, particularly Hiro Honshuko on the EWI. But once again, our drummer felt inclined to return to a rock beat.

The CD wraps up with Super Eyes – Private Heroes by Rabson, and entirely different kind of piece from Romanople. This one is a hard-charging, straightahead jazz tune with an equally hard-charging baritone sax solo by Melanie Howell-Brooks. Shrimpton’s voice is again woven into the fabric of the orchestra, and there’s a certain something about this piece that reminded me of the Stan Kenton band at its best. Helen Sherrah-Davis again takes a solo on the five-string violin, and a superb one it is.

So there’s my opinion of this disc out of the clear blue sky. I liked a lot of it but heartily disliked some of it.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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