Ted Nash knows his way around big bands. The son and nephew of working musicians, before he had exited his teens Nash had already played regular gigs with large ensembles led by Quincy Jones, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Don Ellis and Gerry Mulligan. In his 20s he was a member of and arranger for the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. After establishing himself with a string of stirring original small-group recordings for Arabesque and Palmetto, Nash became a principal arranger and member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra under Wynton Marsalis, a position he still holds. His Grammy-nominated project for that band, Portrait in Seven Shades, was his stunning interpretation of seven classic artworks by the likes of Van Gogh, Matisse and Chagall.
Chakra is another high-concept, seven-movement opus, this time for a handpicked 17-piece band. Each movement is inspired by one of the seven energy centers in the human body, which are known in Tantric and Yogic study as “chakras.” A lover of film and television scores as well as symphonic works and big-band jazz, Nash turns what could have been an esoteric, new-agey affair into music that swings and pops with tension and release as much as it beguiles.
For every chromatic effusion from the five reeds and eight brass, there are sections like the middle of “Water” (the Sacral Chakra), where trumpeter Tim Hagans is blowing hard against the big, Blakey-like beats of drummer Ulysses Owens. And while the clarinets and piano prance like fawns through the chorus of “Fire” (the Solar Plexus Chakra), the swinging undercurrent is as relentless as a tide, eventually surging through via Owens and bassist Martin Wind after solos by trombonist Alan Ferber and a marvelously modulated Anat Cohen on clarinet. In his informative movement-by-movement liner notes, Nash writes that the closer, “Cosmos” (the Crown Chakra), represents “pure consciousness” and “takes us right up to the heavens.” I wouldn’t—and didn’t—go that far. But this ambitious yet accessible project does indeed generate positive energy.