JazzTimes 10: Great Modern Big-Band Recordings

From Maria Schneider to John Hollenbeck and beyond

We all know that the big bands never went away. These days, however, they’re having enough of a moment that the New York Times published an article about it at the start of this year. In the 21st century, a large jazz ensemble is less about generating fodder for dancing (though there are certainly big bands that pursue that end) and more about ambitious compositions and arrangements. If the bands below have anything in common—aside from the obvious—it’s certainly ambition.

Actually, they have a few more things in common. With two exceptions, the bands below all made their debuts after 2000. The outliers are included because of their outsize influence. They also have all released recordings; much as we would have liked to include Igmar Thomas’ Revive Big Band (an exciting project, to say the least), they have yet to drop their long-awaited first album. There are many others that didn’t make the cut, but we hope those that did will give you a sense of the depth and richness of the current big-band jazz landscape.

10. Big Heart Machine: Big Heart Machine (Outside In, 2018)

10. Big Heart Machine: <em>Big Heart Machine</em> (Outside In, 2018)
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Big Heart Machine has an incredible pedigree. Its founder, leader, and composer Brian Krock is a protégé of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra’s Jim McNeely. Its conductor is Miho Hazama. The producer of its self-titled debut album is Darcy James Argue. Like those musician/composers, Krock and the 19-piece Big Heart Machine draw heavily from big bands past and present as well as from contemporary classical music. But they also take quite a bit from heavy metal—Krock’s first love—as one can hear in the group’s virtuoso complexity, the often crunching rhythm and textures, and the menacing guitar growls and screeches (played by Olli Hirvonen) in “Stinson Beach,” the third movement of Big Heart Machine’s “Tamalpais” suite. And then there are the recorders. Five of them. Any way you look at it, Big Heart Machine is a big band like no other, one with an original vision and a promise never to be boring.

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.