Music Reviews
The JCA Orchestra

The JCA Orchestra

Live at the BPC

JCA Recording

There’s a lot of acronyms going on here: “JCA” is the “Jazz Composers Alliance” and “The BPC” translates to “The Beyond Performance Center” in Boston. Maybe you knew that, but I’m not all that tuned into the modern jazz scene. So, here’s my outsider’s take on this interesting disc.

We open with “Romanople,” a rollicking tune reminiscent of a circus soundtrack from a Fellini movie. A steady oom-pah bass and tambourine form a solid beat over the other brass and horns. I can picture a girl in clown makeup walking a slack line with and umbrella and a tutu. Ah, but then I made the mistake of reading the liner notes; it says something about Rome and Constantinople. My image is destroyed! Must I retract my circus girl French romance? Or do I flip over to the History Channel and learn the backstory? Might I be attacked by Visigoths? Great music makes you think great thoughts.

On to track 2 “The Latest” by David Harris. A lonely brass and a rain stick open this number harking back to a post-War rainy night where a man drinks scotch whisky and a woman with too much makeup asks for a light. A jaunty big band lays down a multi-layered dance track: a bit cha-cha, a bit swing, and a lot of black and white post war flirtation. Did I get it right? OK. Well, four tracks to go.

Next, we track “The Sixth Snake” by Bob Pilkington. Slow, gentle strings form a slight tangy dissonance, and ruffled symbols take on a space age vibe, dress in a tux and Hawaiian shirt like Esquivel on a good night. No one dances, rhythm is excoriated to an intellectual level that insists “Stop looking at the babe at the bar in red.” Grok the Sound! Grok the CONCEPT! Grok the vibe, and as you watch, some guy in a baseball cap scores the Woman in Red. The music reaches its dissonant climax. Oh well. Maybe I’ll have better luck on the next track.

The would-be David Harris’s “Orange Yellow Blue”, the second instalment of his second “Color Cycle”. I’m not cool enough to explain a “Color Cycle”, but it focusses on a piano and a glimmer of reentrant navel staring. Some brass erupts, the cymbal and top hat keep that brass in line until a snare drum relieves the tensions of the compositions making for a well moderated argument. Everybody wins their own point, and we all agree to repeat this exercise next Tuesday. Tuesday is the only evening we all have open.

“Well that’s all fine” you inject. “But where’s the POETRY?” The rhythm, the cadence, the unusual juxtapositions of word and action create the image of man and nature battling it out for dominance. I thought things would come to this. Next “A Wallflower on the Amazon” takes the mic. This piece comes from Paula Tatarunis. True, these are tone poems, not the mundanity of a spoken word guy screaming into a microphone as he reads his “Note pad and number two pencil” diatribes. Now a saxophone screams out against injustice. A drum kit taps out the finger snapping rhythm. The rest of the brass section drinks their espresso. The glockenspiel (if it IS a glockenspiel) still has the audacity to defend its side of the “Joel Hodson vs. Mike Nelson” debate. Guys, can you keep it down? Were EMOTING on this stage.

It’s late, the crowd begins its drift out on to the sidewalk to smoke cigarettes and look with disdain at the the cruising cabbies. Time for some announcements, and then one more piece. Technically, they don’t have last call in coffee houses, but they do in the bar around the corner, and the crowd seeks cheap gin and cheaper beer to take the edge off the coffee. Time to cram for that philosophy final. Time for this club to bring out the dissonant closing number: “Super Eyes – Private Heroes”. Guns are hidden in burritos, knock out drops get kept in the record player. Guys eye women, women eye each other. This brassy popping soundtrack throws jazz sensibility to the winds and allows us a fun night cap and a benzidine buzz to drive the rest of the evening. What just happened? Ideas were expounded, opinions justified, coolness increased, jazz relaxed, and whatever our poisons, they were consumed. We did what’s most important: we all made he scene, and the scene made us.

Groovy. Great soundtrack. Good night.

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