Between gigs as a minister and professor at MIT, Mark Harvey still manages to find time to run the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra (AJO), a big band he founded over 25 years ago. By the sound of the latest recording, he does a fine job of it.
Harvey thinks big and takes his time working through his ideas on The Seeker. This incarnation of the AJO runs through three long pieces, the shortest of which lasts nearly 10 minutes. On every tune Harvey calmly steers his ensemble through styles from all over the map. The pastoral "Heartsong" begins almost like a symphony, with flutes and clarinets playing lyrically over soft dissonances from strings struck inside the piano. The mammoth "Passages/Psalms IV," which runs for nearly 40 minutes, begins with a long, ambient passage and then quickly builds into a moment of volcanic polyphony. Before the tune runs its course, the band dives through moments of raging swing, thick orchestral chords, icy sax-and-trumpet passages, lithe ensemble work and a touch of ragtime. Most get a chance to solo, but the ranks are thick with talent. The solos are uniformly good and worth hearing. Harvey and the AJO ask for a bit of patience from their listeners on this one, but repay them in turn.
It would be great, however, if someone would catch this scrappy group with a decent recording. The Seeker's foggy sound quality leaves much to be desired.