Mark Harvey

Paintings for Jazz Orchestra

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Mark Harvey has been knocking around Boston and MIT for a long, long time. He has also been composing for big bands longer than a lot of younger players have been on the scene. He is an adept, even virtuous trumpet player with a killer ear for new harmonic possibilities. He is also a gifted arranger. This set from 1995 offers two different compositions: a large work called Paintings for Jazz Orchestra; a suite in six parts based on the abstract paintings of American artist Stuart Davis; and a shorter but no-less-ambitious work that centers its heart on improvisation, called "Convergences." The two poles for Harvey's unique combination of jazz and classical styles come from Duke Ellington and Charles Ives: Ellington's gracious sense of tight yet broad-colored harmony, and Ives' notion of all organized sound being rife with the possibilities for being turned inside out. So, with a 22-piece band behind him, Harvey sets out to reinvent the big band orchestral palette by having it swing in tandem with diatonic deconstructions and chromatic inventions of a particularly complex nature. Where the orchestral swing in expanded harmonic dualities is reflected in "Swing Landscape;" its inverse is showcased in "Blips and Ifs;" where all orchestral speech is held to a minimum and instruments speak in whispered tonal nuances -- if they speak at all. Harmony is still present, but its force has been de-centered by counterpoint. In "Report From Rockport," Ives' idea of the vanguard is placed center stage and brief, hushed tonal clusters give way to huge brass shouts off of a muted pianissimo melodic idea. Behind it all, the bassist John Funkhouser is riffing like mad in pizzicato yet off mic. "Convergences" is a different entity indeed. Resolution here is not an issue. Brief compositional ideas are placed at all poles of the orchestras and then filled in by the band. Rhythms and time signatures change frequently; pitch is a random assessment of where everybody is at that moment;, and the improvisational arc swings wide to allow everybody their role in shaping a series of color palettes that all meld into one another midway through the piece and then fragment into separate streams, only to join together once more at the work's end. The overall feeling is a kind of cross between Anthony Braxton's 1976 Creative Orchestra Music and Miles Davis' live performances. The rhythm section here, composed of drummer Harry Wellott; Ken Filano; electric bassist Jerry Edwards; and percussionist Craig Ellis, should be applauded. The only thing that keeps this disc from being an overall classic is the usual Leo Feigin problem: shoddy mixing and mastering which hamper the more subtle dynamics of this band -- dynamics that would really show how much they stand out from the rest of the crop.

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