Vienna Art Orchestra

A Notion in Perpetual Motion

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A live recording by the Vienna Art Orchestra is always an event. A band this well rehearsed performing in the controlled environs of the studio, where multiple takes and overdubs are standard practice in order to realize "perfection," are, sadly, standardized "business" practices. But on the road, the Vienna Art Orchestra show just how well rehearsed they are in all the unusual ways. Certainly they play Mathias Rüegg's compositions and charts with precision and feeling, but more than that, they take them in, each member realizing the composition as a part of a musical whole that carries within it the entire history of jazz, but also the playfulness of the sports music of Erik Satie and the European circuses that instill wonder as well as laughter in the hearts of viewers. And the Vienna Art Orchestra is a circus in the same way that the Duke Ellington Orchestra was a circus: a survival unit built for the road and any circumstance it might encounter. There are obvious parallels here: Hannes Kottek's Cat Anderson feel in his solos, smattering notes like jelly on bread; Herbert Joos, emulating the playful tender spirit of Cootie Williams; and Roman Schwaller's empathetic Johnny Hodges read. But Rüegg is not merely imitating Ellington's verve and spirit, he is extending it to move through the end of the 20th century and encompass all that jazz has brought to the fore since Ellington's passing in the '70s. The other part, as a composer, is a composer in a league of his own; one listen to the brassy stomp of "Sights From South Carolina" with Wolfgang Pusching's saxophone solos carrying on in the whirlwind takes the breath away. Lauren Newton's careening croon in "Lady Delay" matches the timbral balance of the orchestra pitch for pitch in an off-meter dance to the death. And then there's the perversity factor on "French Alphorn" with Joos playing the ancient alp instrument that is longer than a pair of stacked refrigerators. It's a grandfather to the trumpet with a limited range that resonates only in overtone settings. With Harry Sokal's soprano sax playing foil, the Alphorn playing it's deep, muted jazz and attempting to squeal through notes it can't reach, it sounds like the Dorsey Brothers trying to get it on with "C-Jam Blues." But the most notable thing abut the Vienna Art Orchestra is its stage presence: Rüegg knows how to create drama and surprise and his musicians are more than up to the challenge, clearly delighting themselves in the process. A Notion in Perpetual Motion is as close to a "perfect" live recording of the VAO as you are likely to find.

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