Friday, August 07, 2009

Crimetime Orchestra w/ Sonny Simmons (Jazzaway, 2009)

Recorded live at an Oslo jazz festival in 2007, progressive big band Crimetime Orchestra pulled out all the stops, inviting legendary alto saxophonist Sonny Simmons as a guest soloist, and adding a string section as well. What results is a riot of color and texture that combines free jazz with progressive classical music in a fascinating way that blows away previous "third stream" musical experiments. Presented as an eight part suite, "Atomic Symphony 1" begins in a deceptively mild fashion with the string section opening, before the horns come in and turn the music into an exciting free jazz improvisation. The music is driven to thunderous cacophony at a blast furnace tempo. "AS - 2" sets an atmospheric tone with slow probing horns sounding creepy and haunting, accented by electronics and feedback that make the music sound cinematic and foreboding. Clocking in at over a half hour, "AS - 3" is the centerpiece of the album. Picking up the pace to a strong tempo, Simmons enters with some smart energetic soloing over supple and tight drumming. With darting phrases that recall Eric Dolphy, he weaves around some electronic texture and takes an unaccompanied solo. Tenor sax and drums return to usher in a wild free section, one of many in this suite within a suite. It's an excellent feature for Simmons' unique musical conception, and then music ends with an awesome free for all, sounding like the coming of a musical Armageddon. "AS - 4" brings things back down to earth with a slow movement for horns, making for textural soundscapes. Simmons breaks out buoyed by riffing horns and strong percussion. The band shows its sense of humor by jumping into a crazy swing section, sounding like the Count Basie Orchestra on massive doses of amphetamines. "AS - 5" builds well also, starting with a slow string introduction, with probing piano; the pace gradually builds to music that is wild and woolly. Following a section of much deserved applause, "AS - 7" and "AS - 8" are encores and codas featuring nicely thought out musical statements that bring this concert to a fine conclusion. This was a fascinating performance, with the sprawling band and string section there was a possibility that it could have been a muddy sounding mess, but the the musicians succeed triumphantly. Absorbing the strings into the full sound of the band, they never sound tacked on as an afterthought. The masterstroke was the addition of Sonny Simmons, one of the most under-rated musicians of the post war era, he brings the power and passion of a true iconoclast and rockets this music into the stratosphere.

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