Here’s proof that less can be more, with a range as broad as a full-blown big band yet retaining the subtleties and expanded solos of a much smaller unit. That approach works well for Terry Promane’s University of Toronto 12tet. On its latest project, the band puts a modern spin on a few jazz classics and digs into both originals and some newer pieces. Seven of the nine tracks were written or, more often, arranged by 12tet members and other undergrad and grad students in U of T’s composing/arranging segment.
Ben Edgecombe arranged Cedar Walton’s “Bolivia,” on which the sprightly piano work of Noah Franche-Nolan sets up a lush ensemble horn segment and alto sax solo from Brandon Tee. Nathaniel Jenkins’ chart for Tom Harrell’s soaring ballad “Sail Away” showcases trumpeter Michael Henley and guitarist Julius Clegg. The band’s version of “Perdido” gets a similar update, featuring tenor Kieran Murphy and trumpeter Kaelin Murply (no relation). Tenor player John Nicholson wrote and arranged “Eventide,” which has a beautiful panoramic feel. Promane arranged U of T faculty member Mike Murley’s “Extra Time” as a feature for the 12tet’s horn players, which segues into a funky piano section.
The contemporary fare includes Snarky Puppy’s “Ready Wednesday,” which is frenetic at times and pulses with the power of a big band at others. Baritone saxophonist Russell Matthews provides its pulse, setting up a thundering solo from Franche-Nolan. Singer Brooklyn Bohach is featured on three numbers: the dance-inspired “Isaya,” sourced from the Dutch band Big Bizar Habit; Promane’s skillful arrangement of Klaus Gesing’s “Dance Without Answer” (with bittersweet goodbye lyrics by Norma Winstone); and a hypnotic planetary wake-up call that is the disc’s pièce de résistance: Henley’s arrangement of “(Ocean) Bloom,” a song that Radiohead reworked with film composer Hans Zimmer. Bohach’s ethereal tone dominates here, and has the final word.