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New Jazz Composers Octet: The Turning Gate

Like all the truly great jazz bands of the past, the New Jazz Composers Octet can turn on a dime from the sound of a roaring big band, breathtaking in its super-train precision, to a profusion of satisfying smaller units. The chemistry here, in mellower moments, recalls the Village Vanguard groups anchored by Mel Lewis and fronted by Thad Jones and, far more briefly, Gerry Mulligan. Let one of NJCO’s reedmen stand up behind the mic-Jimmy Greene on soprano (“The Turning Gate”) or tenor (“David and Goliath”), Myron Walden on alto (“Bad Alchemy,” “Twilight” and his own “Onward”), or Norbert Stachel on bari (“Panic”)-and the room is suddenly edgy, savage and wild.

Bandleader-trumpeter David Weiss shepherds the overall chemistry brilliantly and is one of the cooler voices counterbalancing the thrilling cacophony. He takes one solo over the course of this 65-minute session (on bassist Dwayne Burno’s “Once”) and contributes two charts, the CD’s ambitious title piece and his rearrangement of rocker Henry Cow’s “Bad Alchemy,” exhumed from the far ’70s. Trombonist Steve Davis is another becalming element on “Onward” and Xavier Davis’ “New (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego).”

At the keyboard, Davis gets a leonine share of the solo space, five shots on the album’s 10 tracks. For my money, he’s the most freshly joyous voice on his instrument since Horace Silver kept company with Art Blakey. More to the point, Davis earns his solo space handily by composing six of the tracks. Together, they’re “The Faith Suite.” As producer, Weiss programs the last two segments of the suite, “New” and “David and Goliath,” on tracks two and three before we hear the first four parts of the composition on tracks six through nine.

Weiss probably judged rightly that the somewhat jejune “David and Goliath” would sound anticlimactic after the power tandem of “The Doubtful” and “Panic,” dealing with Noah and the Flood. Fair enough, but a better solution would have been to open the Good Book and remind the composer that Shadrach & Co. come after D&G chronologically. That slight reshuffle would end the suite with a potent affirmation.

Originally Published