Saturday, August 21, 2010

Herculaneum's "Olives and Orchids"

Chicago's been the home to a lot of forward-looking jazz, from Sun Ra to the AACM to Mike Reed's People, Places, and Things, and now you can add Herculaneum -- a little sextet that could in the manner of the classic Mingus units -- to that list. While the players (two saxes, trumpet, trombone, bass, and drums) are all able soloists, on Olives and Orchids, due for an October 26th release, it's the compositions -- by drummer Dylan Ryan and altoist David McDonnell -- that are the music's real focus.

Ryan and McDonnell get the most from their four-horn front line, creating rich voicings and contrapuntal lines that recall vintage Andrew Hill as well as the aforementioned Mingus and Sun Ra outfits. "Temporary Orca" opens with dense chords, then the brasses play the melody against a unison ostinato by the saxes. "Puerto Jimenez" overlays shifting time signatures with a dirge-like melody in the manner of Ornette's "Lonely Woman." On "Mad Anthony," the horn polyphony and Afro-Cuban drums behind the trumpet solo recall a '50s Sun Ra side. "Over Easy" concludes the program on a gentle, ruminative note, with Ryan on vibes, tenorman Nate Lepine on flute, and guitarist John Beard sitting in.

I was resisting the urge to call this "a herculean effort." Oops.


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