Until now, pianist/composer Lorraine Desmarais’ recordings have been with small groups. On this, her 10th recording, she wanted to do something different. She’s proven to be nothing if not versatile, and this is quite the ambitious undertaking. These charts are definitely not a cinch to play, but the 16 musicians make it sound easy. There’s a lot of ground explored here, in terms of modes, different time signatures, excursions into fusion, some funk and bit of freedom on “And One for Chick” (guess who that dedication goes out to).
There’s even a relatively straight blues, “Blues 12,” that proves Desmarais can blow in the traditional sense. “Bleu Silence” is a pretty ballad, played simply and emotionally, featuring the leader and Jean-Pierre Zanella on soprano saxophone. In terms of the orchestrations, I’m hearing a good deal of Thad Jones. In fact, baritone saxophonist Jean Frechette often sounds remarkably like Jones’ (and Mel Lewis’) Pepper Adams.
It’s almost impossible to avoid comparisons to past big bands in projects like these. Desmarais’ band, however, covers a lot of musical ground. It’s never, ever boring-Desmarais’ “New Morning” covers a half-dozen jazz styles just within the head-and always well played, with a good balance of material, a lot of surprises and a group of soloists who never disappoint.