Live at Sweet Rhythm
The 17-piece Brooklyn Big Band, formed in 2000, is heavy on saxophone players, starting with its leaders, Craig Bailey (alto and flute) and Tim Armacost (tenor and clarinet). As displayed on this debut recording, Bailey and Armacost’s conception is to explore contemporary possibilities for the big band, in part by reviewing the past. The unsigned liner notes say of the disc’s longest track, “Take the Coltrane,” “This performance encapsulates a lot of what the group is trying to achieve,” which might be summarized as trying to answer the musical question, “What would Duke Ellington and His Orchestra have sounded like if John Coltrane had been their saxophonist in the 1960s?” “Take the Coltrane” is generously credited to Ellington as composer (notwithstanding that “Take the ‘A’ Train” was written by Billy Strayhorn), and while there isn’t much Ellington in it, it does attempt to reinterpret mature Coltrane in a big-band context.
But that’s really only one track in a quite varied set. Trombonist Jason Jackson’s “Brazilian Bop” brings in the inevitable Latin tinge prior to “Take the Coltrane,” in what is basically a history lesson that makes up the first section of the disc, following the bravura opener, “Long Haired Girl.” Bailey’s palate-cleansing “East of Enid” inaugurates a mellow midsection for the album, giving David Berkman a chance to make like a New Age pianist before he joins in with a delicate flute line. Armacost’s big moment is his unaccompanied solo late in the melodic “Animated,” after which Bailey makes the argument that his old boss Ray Charles represented a valid strain of big-band jazz in “Quiet Time” and “My Blues.” Whether or not that’s true, the Brooklyn Big Band fully delivers on its claim to be an evolution of the big-band sound here.