Orange Then Blue

While You Were Out

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A transitional album can sometimes be a band's most exciting effort, representing fresh ideas, the taking on of new blood, or perhaps just the beginning of a door closing on one phase and opening on another. Orange Then Blue's double-CD opus While You Were Out is one such album, standing as a final document of the group's years as a Boston-based ensemble and presenting the first inkling of its soon-to-emerge status as an outlet for many of the top musicians on the New York downtown jazz scene. Led by drummer/composer George Schuller (son of Gunther), OTB started in 1984 as a group of young musicians who were receiving their jazz educations in Boston. By the time this fifth OTB album was recorded in 1992, the band was poised to shift operations to New York City under George Schuller's continued leadership. And as the decade progressed, bandmembers like reedmen Matt Darriau and Chris Speed, trumpeter Cuong Vu, and others would be leading their own New York-based bands, continuing to explore ideas they began investigating during their Boston days. Another notable presence on While You Were Out is trumpeter Dave Douglas, a musician who had left Boston for New York at around the same time that OTB was first formed. So when listening to While You Were Out today, one detects a distinct New York downtown flavor, even if Douglas was pretty much the only musician present who was starting to make his name in New York when the CD was recorded. Douglas' turbocharged large-ensemble arrangement of "Slow Boat to Mechanicsville," a piece heard in a quintet version on New and Used's Souvenir album, here features rich sonorities and harmonizations as well as opportunities for both fiery solo and group improvising.

Darriau, of course, was one of the first of the new breed of East Coast jazzers who began incorporating Eastern European influences in his music, starting while in Boston and then continuing with his New York-based Paradox Trio. Here he arranges the traditional Bulgarian dance "Gankino Horo," giving solo spots to himself (on kaval and alto sax) and to Douglas, whose own interest in Balkan and Eastern European-influenced creative improvisation would find a particularly fulfilling outlet in his Tiny Bell Trio. Chris Speed's album opener "Scatter" was also featured as the title track of Human Feel's GM Recordings debut cut the preceding year. With a boppish and angular head and avant-flavored collective improvisational structure in its middle section, the OTB version is also notable for a burning and uncannily vocalistic trumpet solo from Vu, who would later lead a New York-based quartet and trio while also playing a significant role in one of Speed's most exciting New York bands, his yeah NO quartet. Elsewhere on While You Were Out, the music ranges from Darriau-arranged Celtic reels to George Schuller's Gil Evans homage "Evanescent" to Albert Ayler's "The Truth Is Marchin' In" arranged by Speed -- in short, a wildly diverse program of inspired music from artists who, individually and collectively, would inject much adventurousness into American jazz during the remainder of the '90s and beyond. Anyone with a serious interest in big-band creative jazz should make the effort to find the truly amazing While You Were Out. OTB's next album -- not released until 1999 -- would be Hold the Elevator, recorded in 1994 and 1995 when the band was firmly ensconced in New York and linked to Boston only through its connection to the GM label headquartered there.

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