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Aardvark Jazz Orchestra Turns 30

Ever wonder what it would be like if Charles Mingus, Gil Evans, George Russell, Duke Ellington and Frank Zappa toured around in a big band for thirty years? You don’t have to. The twenty-piece Aardvark Jazz Orchestra is way ahead of you, having embodied the “best and brashest” of these individualistic innovators for the last thirty years. Since 1973, the Boston-based band led by composer/arranger Mark Harvey (pictured) has played to much acclaim and won fans all over the world. Harvey, who is a Music Lecturer at M.I.T., is also an ordained Methodist minister and plays trumpet and piano. The spirit of Frank Zappa consorting with a Methodist minister? Oil and water, you say. But that’s the beauty of the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra. The framework lends itself to creativity and exploration. With each member bringing his own experiences and interpretations to the table, Aardvark is able to let the music speak for itself with no apologies.

In December the band will release two CDs on the Aardmuse label in conjunction with their Annual Christmas Benefit Concert. The first CD, Bethlehem Counterpoint, features Sheila Jordan singing “soulful carol renditions.” There is also a bluesy “Silent Night,” a polyrhythmic “Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella” and Harvey’s own “Benedictus.” The second CD, Duke Ellington/Sacred Music, is dedicated to Duke Ellington and features the Ellington/Strayhorn tune “A Song for Christmas” sung by Donna Hewitt-Didham. All tracks are from live performances, most of which were recorded by WGBH, Boston’s largest NPR affiliate. Aardvark also goes to work on “The Magi,” the first movement from Ellington’s “Three Black Kings” featuring Greg Kelley on trumpet. Other tracks feature an eighty-voice choir and tap dancing in selections from Ellington’s first and second Sacred Concerts.

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