Neo-Modernism's final track, "Heavily Amplified Hairpiece," opens with a swiftly moving funk beat soon thickened with slow, long-tone accompaniment from the horns. That bold opening turns even more brazen when, in the middle of a searing solo by saxophonist Jeremy Udden, the rhythm section abruptly drops out, pitting a grumbling, free-spitting saxophone section against a freshly dusted and sprightly Moog synthesizer. This is the Either/Orchestra's electric Miles Davis/Sun Ra-inspired piece, and one of several pieces on Neo-Modernism inspired by a list of singular jazz figures (Mingus, Shorter, Lacy, Monk and Billy Harper also figure into the recording). It's also a bit of an outlier. E/O are certainly capable of being wild and outsized, and they've touched electric-Miles style in the past, but their house charms are of a different, subtler order. And those house charms are in evidence here.
On most of Neo-Modernism, E/O begins with a confident brassy sound and a sophisticated swing and then lines it with clever details and arch, sometimes manic gestures. Ensemble passages serve as elegant counterpoint to the soloist and then slide into a polyphony bordering on (but never quite getting to) anarchy. Role-conscious soloists often choose modesty and ensemble-enhancing gestures over pyrotechnics. Meanwhile, some section of the band is tossing out a completely unexpected countermelody.
This latest recording doesn't quite rise to the level of E/O's best work-it is a touch muted here and there-but it is a great example of the high quality, highly controlled ensemble work E/O generates. And it's rarely less then satisfying.