I’ve a special regard for someone who can keep a big band together in this day and age. It’s hard enough getting four musicians in the same room for a gig, much less a rehearsal. I can barely imagine what it must be like for someone like Mark Harvey, Aardvark’s leader, who manages to do it with a 20-plus-member ensemble. Oy. That he does it so well is a major accomplishment.
This latest Aardvark disc showcases the improvising and interpretive skills of a number of fine trumpeters, including notably Eric Dahlman, Taylor Ho Bynum, Rajesh Mehta and the leader himself. The soloists are excellent, and the arranging and composing (by Harvey, Mehta, and Bynum) strike a balance between freedom and organization with considerable success. I’m generally not a huge fan of experimental big bands, principally because it’s so hard to strike that balance. A big band playing “out” can’t turn on a dime as quickly as a small group, and sometimes “loose” is just “sloppy.” Aardvark’s music is more deliberative and concert hall-y than I typically enjoy, but it’s not sloppy. Indeed, it’s quite good in its way. Three cheers for Harvey’s stick-to-it-iveness.