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Alan Ferber: March Sublime

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Is it wishful thinking, or is a big-band resurgence happening? It’s not like big jazz bands are out there touring the country in buses, but they keep turning up for recording sessions and concerts. Large ensembles led by Darcy James Argue, Orrin Evans, Ryan Truesdell, Cecilia Coleman, John Hollenbeck, Jason Lindner and Mark Masters are just a few.

Add Alan Ferber to that list of leaders. March Sublime is his first big-band project. It uses the traditional devices of large-format jazz to elucidate a postmodern sensibility.

“Hyper-Ballad,” as performed by its composer, Björk, is ethereal, cryptic pop poetry of the new millennium. Ferber’s arrangement for 19 pieces magnifies the song into grandeur. Hoagy Carmichael’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well” contains fragile, vacillating emotion consistent with 1938 but features trumpeter Scott Wendholt’s advanced improvised content. The massed ensemble erects towering architecture based on a delicate song form.

Ferber’s own compositions and arrangements are inspired and meticulous. “Wildwood” is a dramatic narrative, so patient in its unfolding it might have come from Gil Evans. It includes vivid storytelling by guitarist Anthony Wilson and Ferber on trombone. The title track is a fresh act of the imagination, based on a simple repeated figure introduced by drummer Mark Ferber (Alan’s twin brother). It is picked up by David Cook’s piano and becomes an ostinato passed through each section of the orchestra, gathering influence like an incantation.

Ferber gives almost everyone a solo moment. In addition to those already mentioned, alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher, trumpeters Alex Norris and Taylor Haskins and baritone saxophonist Chris Cheek stand out. The solo firepower here is formidable. But the best thing about this band is their collective feel for time, which allows them to sound wildly loose yet precise, as if they have been out in a bus, touring for years.

Originally Published