Jazz trumpeter Orbert Davis is not only a skilled player in the post-Lee Morgan/Donald Byrd/Freddie Hubbard tradition, he's a very talented big-band or symphonic orchestrator and arranger who is very capable of combining swing, blues, Latin American, and European-flavored charts that offer a fresh perspective to creative music nomenclature. This single-minded project is a tribute to his Chicago home, incorporating members of the vaunted Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, local mainstream or progressive jazz stars, and professional classical performers to amass a 50-plus-member group, 25 of them string players. Tributes to certain Chi-Town heroes are sprinkled into a gigantic nine-piece suite that moves in and out of these various styles, all having had a direct impact on Davis and the euphonic world in and out of the Windy City loop. Yes, there's a majestic air that permeates this music, as expected, but it weaves in and out of larger thematic segments. "Diaspora" uses trilled flutes, a mysterious symphonic regimen, samba to African beats, and brawny tenor sax solos by Edward Wilkerson and Ari Brown. Another varied motif, "Seraphim" has the strange and beautiful flute of Nicole Mitchell paired with Ryan Cohen's sensible piano in a Latin beat. The grand finale, "Vice Versa," churns in a 6/8 Afro-Cuban stew loaded with meaty counterpoint and multiple layers of spicy discourse.
During the course, you hear three snippets of "The Creation of Evolution" with Mitchell's daunting alto or bass flute in the middle, the two-part "An Afternoon with Mr. Bowie" for Lester Bowie in a requiem mode via Brown's somber tenor, followed by the ribald, Bowie-imaged trumpet of Davis swinging along, while contrasts of squawky interplay between Brown, Mitchell, and Davis inform the pounding brass and Aaron Copland expansive horizon stance of "One Thousand Questions, One Answer." The stand-alone pieces include an introductory "Fanfare for Cloud Gate" laden with shout choruses, a vintage King Oliver/Louis Armstrong medley of "West End Blues/Weatherbird," and the Count Basie/Jimmy Rushing closer, "Going to Chicago," as sung in South Side style by Terisa Griffin. AACM founder and elder statesman Mwata Bowden guests, playing the didgeridoo on the first part of the bubbling, elemental building block "Creation/Evolution," and in other instances his distinctive, ballsy baritone sax or bluesy bass clarinet. Bowden is the straw that stirs this exhilarating drink. While the enormity of this rich ensemble is at times a bit overwhelming, there's no doubt as to the sincerity Davis feels about this project, and the city to which it is dedicated. Whether it is pegged as orchestral jazz or black classical music matters little. Davis and his troupe do fully address the indefatigable spirit of the so-called Second City, still standing strong in the broadest terms of diversity and musical intelligence, with this magnificent and abundant effort.