Inspired and cutting edge, the Danjam Orchestra's debut album "Sudden Appearance" explores jazz from swinging hard bop melodies to etherial free moments.
Led by Canadian composer, educator and performer Daniel Jamieson, the orchestra is made up of former Manhattan School of Music students and professional musicians, most significantly John Riley on drums. Jamieson said that the difference between many big bands today and this group is that his compositions are tailored specifically for the players in his orchestra.
"When I wrote and arranged this music, it was with these musicians in mind," said Jamieson, who believes that his players' individual characteristics allow the band to have a unique sound. "It gives me as a conductor and composer a lot of options, and ways to make the band sound different from a typical big band."
One such case is Jamieson's composition "Song for Anna", where Anna Webber, featured on flute, interacts interpretively with the rhythm section, producing a completely improvised and ever-changing sound. The piece's haunting melody, coupled with auxiliary percussion from Eddy Hackett leave the listener grasping for a final resolution.
All of the compositions and arrangements come from Jamieson's days as a graduate student at Manhattan School of Music, a time that he says was "extremely influential and allowed me to grow as a musician and writer". Jamieson studied under star-arranger Jim McNeely, and saxophonist Dave Liebman, whom Jamieson says developed several of his skills.
"[Liebman's concept of chromatic harmony is evident throughout the compositions on the album," said Jamieson. "He really opened up a whole new way of thinking and writing harmonies for me."
Jamieson considers the band's best work to be on his arrangement of the Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz tune "Alone Together", however, he says that according to the players in the band, there is no favorite.
"I'd get in trouble for saying one or the other is my favorite, or was the best, because everyone in the band makes a great case for every tune, in their assessment and in their performance," he said.
Particularly intriguing is Jamieson's ode to hard bop in "Crunch Peanut Butter". The swinging melody, played by trumpet and bari sax turns into a burning solo for Sam Dillon.
Throughout CPB, and embedded in Jamieson's work is a unique style of layering and pairing of instruments that changes the way one hears a big band. From the coupled bari and trumpet to guitar and saxophone pairings and specialized trombone background voicings, there's something new for every level of jazz listener throughout the CD.
Jamieson takes a solo on his version of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" where once again, trumpet is paired with flute to begin the piece, countered by guitar and drums. The layering and dense chordal backgrounds give way to Chaplin's melody and bring together all of the bands unique qualities on a neat, thoughtful wrap to the debut album.
Jamieson and the Danjam Orchestra will release the CD at a party at Miles Cafe on East 52nd Street in New York City on Sunday May 15 at 10 p.m. To find out more about about the group, visit www.danjam.ca.
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