Formed in 1985, and drawing on some of the finest musicians from New England, the Jazz Composers Alliance performs new works for large jazz ensemble. While few of the players on this album are well-known beyond their locale (an obvious exception being trombonist David Harris, who has built a fine reputation for his klezmer work), the key is in the writing, which is universally superb. Four composers contributed compositions: Darrell Katz, the founder and director of the group; highly talented longtime collaborator Laura Andel, originally from Argentina; Harris; and Warren Senders, a member of the faculty at the New England Conservatory of Music. The intricate arrangements are unusually consistent in quality, offering a range of emotion, technique, and style. There is much to savor, from Katz's somewhat more traditional award-winning harmonies ignited by original, intricate rhythmic concepts, to Harris' adventurous creations. The individual solos, though, while more than adequate, rarely rise to the very high level of the writing, the saxophonists in particular sometimes getting stuck on autopilot. Trombonist Harris is wondrous, with some vigorous and dirty rough-edged contributions, and he and Bob Pilkington are a powerful section. The danger of a leaderless collective is that the changing personnel (and, in this case, composers) can make it difficult for a group to establish and maintain an identity and, as with an anthology of literature, quality can be sometimes checkered. Thankfully, neither is the case here, as the group gels remarkably well and the pieces exhibit some of the most exciting writing around for the big jazz band.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Loewy