Chuck Israels Jazz Orchestra: Garden of Delights

Israels doesn’t go for rhythmic gymnastics. One of Garden‘s 10 tunes is in 6/8, the others swinging away in 4/4. He likes a touch of harmonic complexity: Songs like the woozy “Speed Bumps” and sly “Warming Trend” put ever-so-slight warpage on the chords, especially in Dan Gaynor’s piano intros. (In the case of “Warming Trend,” that off-kilter harmony makes a surprise of the song’s ultimate traditionalism; it’s based on “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise”). He meshes the orchestral voices with sympathetic beauty. The warm wash of reed and trombone backgrounds on “Natural Beauty” is undeniable, as are the leads-turned-obbligati that John Moak’s trombone, David Evans’ clarinet and Robert Crowell’s bass clarinet share on “Chaconne a Son Gout.”

But the melodies have priority, and there Israels shines brightest. It’s impossible not to smile at trumpeter Charlie Porter’s line on the opening “The Skipping Tune.” Better still is the relaxed do-re-mi-fa of “Chaconne a Son Gout,” and the tender Porter-led waltz “Natural Beauty” is best of all. Other tunes are launch pads for improvisation, and that works too. The title track makes a neat trick of the solos, having Porter, Moak and vocalist Jessica Israels sing blues licks for the first eight bars, then zip into bebop lines for what would seem to be the blues’ resolution.

The flaw in Garden‘s design is that Israels sometimes introduces secondary ensemble melodies into his charts-“The Skipping Tune,” “Garden of Delights”-that are not only extraneous, but detract from the solid main melodies. Perhaps Israels doesn’t know how good he is.