Ayn Inserto's second recording with her jazz orchestra is grand and sophisticated to a degree as to immediately elevate her status alongside acknowledged influences, and well known, experienced chart makers like Maria Schneider, Bob Belden, and Mark Masters. This Boston based big band plays Inserto's original music, tempered to strict tolerances, read and interpreted precisely and joyously. Main soloist George Garzone is also a powerful figure in the way the music is shaped, but it is his distinct post-John Coltrane tone that establishes a high inspirational standard for all members of the band to follow. Inserto directs and conducts her charges through eight original pieces individually dedicated to her teachers and influences, which include Dave Eshelman, Bob Brookmeyer, Frank Foster, Steve Lacy, Michael Brecker, personal friends, family, and bandmembers. This is complex music, clearly well rehearsed, compelling and commanding for any astute listener, and firmly placed in the modern mainstream neo-bop contemporary continuum. Boston saxophonists like Rick Stone, Brian Landrus, Kelly Roberge, Sean Berry, and especially Allan Chase work in tandem with Garzone, while lead trumpeter Jeff Claassen fronts the brass section. A new star to discover is pianist Carmen Staaf, a wonderfully melodic and inventive keyboardist who fills nooks and crannies, and sets the pacing, color palate, and tone for the band nearly as much as Garzone. "Eshel Sketch" kicks off the set with an exuberance indicative of the entire date, a bouncy, happy, childlike piece based on Staaf's dainty, stated figures being cleverly traced by the horns. Stairstep bright lighting flicked repeatedly on and off identifies "A Little Brook," the depth of the composition shaded by a far reaching horizon that mirrors Brookmeyer's modern visage of color balance with little accents of splashed starbursts framed in an easy swing. "Vinifera" pays tribute to Foster -- it is a piece commissioned by ASCAP and the now defunct International Association of Jazz Educators -- as spiked tips of melody followed by quick counterpoint presents the most intricate construct, far from simple harmonics or dynamics, but lean and mean. Garzone's soprano on "Laced with Love" does not so much assimilate Steve Lacy, but urges the horn section in a mounting, lingering, and slow refrain that he punctuates in characteristic sharp tones, providing a lovely eulogy. Of course Garzone's tenor during "To Michael Brecker," as you would expect, takes into account the free floating no time concept of Coltrane married to Brecker's inexhaustive lyrical mindset. "Snowplace Like Home" (love the title) has Chase and Garzone hopping about on a jumpy repeat theme where their dual soprano saxes push the envelope harmonically, and the closer "Simple" is a basic melody reminiscent of Count Basie, short and sweet, with the exception of a purposefully sour note at the end of the pretty phrase. Inserto is impressive as a writer of modern jazz, her band is more than up to the task, and there's a real feeling of camaraderie cementing the band as a true working mule team. Especially if you are not familiar with her name and sound, keep Ayn Inserto's Muse in serious consideration for a distinguished place in your collection. It is an excellent representation of what's happening in her virile, imaginative mind, and comes highly recommended.
by Michael G. Nastos