Over his career and small discography, bandleader Darrell Katz has forged an identity as a progressive and creative orchestrator of new music in a way that few can claim. Beyond the modern signatures of Gil Evans and Maria Schneider, the style of Katz is best known not only for jagged edges and vast colors of the musical spectrum as much as direct correlations to tradition. This effort, with a huge ensemble of Bostonians, primarily incorporates the writings of Paula Tatarunis, a theoretical and surrealistic painter of words, thoughts, and stilted views of the human condition. This Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra (not to be confused with a similarly named band from New York City,) presents a heady mix of straight-ahead jazz, solo segments from bandmembers, a cohesion and unity when needed, and a generous helping of the tension and release techniques that puts this music fully into the post-Igor Stravinsky/Pierre Boulez/Duke Ellington/Willem Breuker mode. The supple and often surprising vocalist Rebecca Shrimpton speaks and sings the haunting and macabre lyrics of "December 30,1994" a depiction of the horrific women's clinics shootings by John Salvi in Brookline, Massachusetts. Aside from siren sounds, panic and mayhem, there's a slightly funky strut amidst the brittle and fragmented monstrosity of passion and idiocy -- an incredibly descriptive and evocative musical construct. "I'm Me & You're Not, Ha Ha" takes a different tack of absurdity, based on an unfortunate encounter with a pop music mogul, but more so themed on the utter indulgence and sociopathological self-centered entitlement of the snobbish elite. Mainly a humorous discourse of what a convention of the holier-than-thou's would be like, a "get stuff for free" lyric from Shrimpton leads into compelling jamming with whirring flute, improvised and composed segments, and solos. The final text offering of Tatarunis "Lemmings" (dedicated to those who voted for George W. Bush,) features the smaller JCA Winds. Of the more "standard" fare is an up and down tango-blues take on Willie Dixon's "The Same Thing" sung by gritty rock icon Mike Finnigan, perfectly parallel to the Gil Evans version of Dixon's "Spoonful." "Everybody Loves Ray Charles" is a swinging waltz to 4/4 groove with a bit of Kurt Weill's circus tinge, and "Like a Wind" is the sweetest refrain, sung by Shrimpton, with a waltz soliloquy based on Sherwood Anderson's text from the novel Winesburg, Ohio. Fred Ho plays outstanding baritone sax on his lone solo of the date during "December 30, 1994," and others such as Either/Orchestra saxophonist Jeremy Udden and bassist Rick McLaughlin, guitarist Norm Zocher, alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, and flutist Hiro Honshuke are standouts. The enclosed lyric sheet is quite helpful. For sure an inventive project based on mixed media precepts that deserves to be seen live, or should also be available as a DVD, Katz and crew offer this enduring example of how tragedy and sorrow can be turned into a distinct cautionary tale of what to do and not do. Recommended.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos
feat: JCA Winds