David Schumacher and J.C. Sanford have culled an impressive roster of modern jazz talents to record their extremely composed music, a collection of modern big-band originals that suggests the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis, Gil Evans, and Bob Brookmeyer traditions at the core of their identity, with their own personalized twists and turns blended in. Among the impressive musicians in this 17-piece big band are well known players like saxophonist Dan Willis, trumpeter John Bailey, pianist Deanna Witkowski, acclaimed drummer John Hollenbeck, and lesser known but excellent ensemble players and soloists as guitarist Andrew Green, saxophonist and clarinetists Eric Rasmussen, Chris Bacas, and Ben Kono. The spirited, tricky, and original music here is performed with the prerequisite savvy rehearsal time that surely preceded its documentation, a quite precise reading of these charts with layer upon layer of colors bestowed upon some hefty improvisation given space in its proper time. Check out the opener "Breaking Point" (not Freddie Hubbard's) with its jumpy, scattershot horn chart in 3/4 and 4/4 time, a modal bass and tenor sax middle, and manic guitar from Green -- all like Thelonious Monk on acid. "Slide Therapy" further illuminates their clever conceptual writing featuring glissando trombone and guitar sounds playfully slithering, and even crooning, about the premises in different tempos together, with Willis soloing on soprano sax. A lot of dense chatter from all of the horns during the outstanding "Rhythms of the Mind" is pervasive enough, but a heavier beat prevails. Rubato seems to be a key for the group, especially from Witkowski's perspective during the pensive "Ives, Eyes" where the horns echo her regret, while vocalist Kate McGarry guests in upper octaves for the warning to love in May ballad "The Radiance of Spring." Of course the band can swing fervently during the flighty, hard, neo-bopper "BMT," and in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis tradition for "Chuck 'n' Jinx" led by trombonist Mark Patterson. The N.Y.C./East Coast aspect of this group is not lost, as "Edge of the Window" comes straight out of Michael Brecker in its clockwork rhythm from the expert drummer Hollenbeck, Don Grolnick-like sighing, soulful piano by the ever emerging Witkowski, and an excellent lead solo from Bailey, all under the imagery of flying a kite under balmy conditions. At times extraordinary and consistently excellent, the Schumacher-Sanford Sound Assembly project should be high on your acquisition list for 2009 if modern big bands with taste, craft, an edge, and top level musicianship are in your specific taste level, and comes heartily recommended with no reservation.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos