New York Composers Orchestra

First Program in Standard Time

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For their second and, apparently, final album, the group of downtown New York City musicians who had come together under the banner of the New York Composers Orchestra branched out a bit from performing their own compositions in the attempt to construct a kind of repertoire of large ensemble music from various contemporary composers. Although still under the guiding lights of Wayne Horvitz and Robin Holcomb and featuring their work, the disc also includes pieces by Anthony Braxton, Elliott Sharp, and Lenny Pickett. The Braxton number that opens the album is one of his bop-oriented works from the late '70s (also including interpolations from other works of his, in the collage style he championed) and is performed just about as well as his own large groups. The knotty chart is negotiated with vigor and imagination, the solos flowing naturally, especially a juicy trumpet trio toward the end. Holcomb's title track points to the kind of bluesy wistfulness she would explore on subsequent solo albums before evolving briefly into a satirical march. Horvitz's pieces follow the familiar tack of many of his works: combining jazz-inflected attacks with a certain kind of pop sensibility, making for attractive melodies that tend to linger in the memory while at the same time leaving a question in one's mind as to ultimate substance. "Skew," by Sharp, takes the group furthest afield, conjuring up hammering tones and brutally percussive ensemble playing. It's tough listening but serves as a refreshing break from a selection of tracks that otherwise might have begun to fall into a rut, albeit a pleasant kind of rut. Considering the compositional prowess he displayed in his own bands, Bobby Previte's intriguingly titled "Valerie, Explain Pollock" is disappointingly staid and bland before finally, almost too late, ending with a rich hymn-like melody. First Program in Standard Time is enjoyable enough on its own merits and is doubtless close to what its creators had envisioned, but one can't help but wish that they had been even more adventurous with the material they chose to interpret.

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