Thursday, February 24, 2011

atm15: big band reborn (listen/hear collective)

Composer, arranger, conductor, producer and trombonist: Melbourne’s Andrew Murray is a man on a mission. And this record, Murray’s debut and the product of six years’ love and labour, is his mission statement, an acoustic manifesto. Murray believes there is life in the big band format yet. And, on this evidence, he is not wrong. Though admittedly the likes of British saxophonist Chris Bowden have been saying as much for a while now already, most notably of all on his 2002 record for Ninja Tunes, Slightly Askew.

Nevertheless, Big Band Reborn is right out of the top drawer. The arrangements are immaculate, the ensemble work tight as anything I’ve heard and the improvisation top notch. The record takes in a wide range of styles, from swing to funk and neo-soul. And with plenty of modern production tricks to boot. The Real Mission and Seven Whites are excellent.

If the record has a fault, it is its tendencies towards the “smoother” end of the spectrum. Cliff Bowden’s (no relation of Chris’ as far as I know) vocal work doesn’t help in this respect. He is more than proficient technically, but there’s a certain richness, a depth, or a “grain” in Barthes’ terms, that is missing. The “rapping” on Waapa’s Favourite Son is positively wet.

When I say that this record reminds me a little of some of Jamie Cullum’s more recent output, I don’t mean stylistically. Even less as some sort of veiled criticism. For starters, the improvisation here is miles better than anything released by the British boy wonder. But in terms of approach there is an admirable sense that jazz forms perceived to be outdated still have something to say to a contemporary audience. And as with Cullum, I suspect that ATM15 will be even more impressive live than they are on record.

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