It’s one of the most surprising jazz trends in the 21st century: the emergence of big bands as something more than an anomaly or a nostalgia vehicle. And in fact, the new big bands are emblematic of sonic trends in jazz, capturing and enlarging imaginative compositional techniques and bracingly original improvisations. If the trickle began in the ’90s with the Maria Schneider Orchestra, it became a river in the last decade via superlative work from bands led by John Hollenbeck, Darcy James Argue, Miho Hazama, Dan Weiss, Brian Krock, and others. The latest development in this style comes from reedwomen/composers Anna Webber and Angela Morris and their debut big-band recording, Both Are True.
Morris and Webber have been up-and-comers on the New York scene for several years and have co-led this band for five. Webber has impressed with larger groups performing music inspired by cornerstone 20th-century classical composers and with her Simple Trio featuring Hollenbeck and pianist Matt Mitchell. Morris has won followers with her chamber-sized ensemble Rallidae and her work in bands led by Jessica Pavone, Myra Melford, and Helado Negro. The co-leaders share a passion for timbre, unique rhythms, unusual voicings, and biting solos, which are found in abundance on this album.
We begin with Webber’s sweeping “Climbing on Mirrors,” which rides catchy horn figures and an exhilarating solo from alto saxophonist Charlotte Greve. Morris penned the title track, and it features stellar ensemble movement and superb solos from Webber, saxophonist Jay Rattman, and vibraphonist Patricia Brennan. The recording alternates expansive works with pithy, shorter ones. “Rebonds” showcases gritty play by guitarist Dustin Carlson, and there are two thorny duets by the co-leaders. As is often the case with first albums that were years in the works, Both Are True is a compelling assemblage of intense ideas brought to exciting fruition.