Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Steve Swell's Mid-sized Ensemble Music, 2003

Mid-August is not typically a time where there are great numbers of new releases. People are vacationing, in whatever fashion they can afford right now, and generally aren't hunting down the latest music. I do have a couple of new CDs to cover in the next few days, but it is also a good time to highlight some older releases that may have been missed. So I do so today.

That's the idea with a look at Steve Swell's Suite for Players, Listeners and Other Dreamers (CIMP), a 2003 recording that should be heard by anyone interested in new thing jazz. It is in the form of an interconnected eight-part suite that abounds in interesting written lines both before, after, and in the middle of solo spots.

The group involved has the sound colors of a variety of instruments. Of course Mr. Swell's trombone, reeds by Will Connell, trumpet courtesy of Roy Campbell, Charles Burnham on violin, Francois Grillot on bass, and the drums of Kevin Norton.

Important contributions are made by all. Charles Burnham's violin is the biggest surprise to me. He can get a solo together that has idiomatic qualities to the style yet is informed by the violin's history and lineage. Then of course Mr. Swell's trombone is at the apex of what is being done today.

It is the arranging-compositional-free ensemble thrust that makes this CD a best-case example of how to work in a long form and maintain listener interest. There are full-flush ensemble tuttis and they contrast with interludes for a smaller segment of the group, in always-changing combinations. The written sections drive the solos and then the solos in turn drive the written sections. It pushes the listening time forward so that you become unaware of set length. In the CD era that is so important. I can't tell you how many CDs I've heard where I wish the 80 minute rule would not apply. Sometimes the old 35 minute LP was just about long enough. Suite for Players does not have that problem. Length gives this piece a chance to unfold properly, always interestingly.

In the end we have another joyous earful of Steve Swell the ever-evolving musical leader. If you aren't familiar with Steve's music, this is as good a place as any to start.

CIMP recordings are best obtained directly from the

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