Big Band, Jazz
Reviewed by Tony Mitchell, April 1st, 2014
This is the debut album of the Divergence Jazz Orchestra, an 18-piece outfit that plays music by Jenna Cave who also conducts, as well as by other Australian composers such as Judy Bailey, Steve Newcomb and William Motzing. The album was produced via crowdfunding, an increasingly popular method of fund raising which involves individual contributors, in this case 125 of them, all paying a particular sum and receiving an album and presumably shares in any profits. Big bands being notoriously difficult to keep together, this seems like a good tactic.
A recipient of a Masters degree in Composition from the Sydney Conservatorium, which awarded the group a performance grant, Cave has also specialises in film music, and has written a string quartet. Aged between 19 and 34, the performers, who include co-musical director and trombonist Paul Weber, play trombones, saxophones, woodwinds, trumpets and flugelhorns en masse, with solo guitar, bass and drums. The group has performed at the Sound Lounge, the 2013 Wangaratta Jazz festival, and launched this album at Sydney’s newest jazz venue, Foundry616.
The opening track, A Stranger in Helsinki, refers to the time Cave spent in the Finnish capital hanging out with crack drummer, Olavi Louhuivori, and trumpeter Verneri Pohjola of the Ilmiliekki Quartet. This group has toured Australia twice, most recently playing a memorable gig in the 505 Club in Sydney in 2011, and is one of the most prominent jazz groups in Finland. Justin Buckingham on sax and Luke Liang on guitar steer Stranger, but the group’s top-heavy winds and brass tend to dominate, as they do throughout the album.
Flash in the Pan features Brendan Champion on solo trombone, with the big band sound again prominent. Dear Miss Upstill, the only track to top ten minutes, is a slower number featuring trumpeter Will Gilbert and tenor saxophonist Michael Avgenicos, but also some effective Luke Liang guitar, while the Agatha Christie-ish And Then There was One has Evan Harris on a slinky tenor sax, but also showcases David Groves’ bass, which tends to get lost in the mix elsewhere, and the guitar also gets another airing.
Jazz Euphoria on Frenchmen Street evokes the eponymous live music strip in new Orleans, as featured in the TV series Treme; as one would expect, a new Orleans vibe is uppermost, with Gilbert’s trombone (shades of Antoine Batiste?) and Brendan Champion’s trumpet soloing, and some more effective guitar work from Liang. Track six is the tile track, featuring the entire ensemble, and the album finishes superbly (and danceably) with Odd Time in Mali, where Liang and Groves lay down a soukous vibe, aided and abetted by Weber on trombone, Collins on trumpet and Joshua Willard on alto sax. More of this, please!