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Dan Bonsanti And The 14 Jazz Orchestra - Islands
Self Released, 2023
This big band music is a light year away from the swing era. But that is no surprise as all jazz has evolved from its earliest trappings. Big band arrangement today is more similar to Romantic Era Classical composition than a Count Basie head figure counted off and detonated. Dan Bonsanti and his 14 Jazz Orchestra illustrate the state of this evolution on Islands, the group’s fourth release.
Immediately, the title becomes apparent as every piece is infused with a breezy rhythm providing momentum to the musical humidity. Bonsanti’s charts are complex and carefully considered, as is his repertoire. While not completely shying away from standards, Bonsanti addresses much more recent music. The disc opens McCoy Tyner’s “The Man from Tanganyika,” a song not on the beaten path. Also present is Pat Metheny’s “Missouri Uncompromised” from the guitarist’s 1976 debut recording Bright Size Life (ECM) and Chick Corea’s “Bud Powell” from the pianist’s Remembering Bud Powell (Stretch Records, 1997). Each displays the arranger’s unique invention.
As for the standards, Bonsanti includes a tropical “Jitterbug Waltz,” featuring Ed Calle on soprano saxophone and Mike Brignola on bass clarinet. The other standard, a multilayered “Some Other Time” features trumpeter Jason Carder and pianist Mike Levine. Bonsanti loves these melodies and treats them so.
The surprise inclusions feature the electric bass. Mike Levine’s composition, “Jaco,” honors Jaco Pastorius, with bassist Will Lee doing the honors within an intricate and dramatic chart. Lee solos with a great grasp of melody and improvisation. Randy Newman’s “When She Loved Me” (from the movie Toy Story 2) features bassist Mark Egan and guitarist Randy Bernsen in a strings duet that treats Newman’s melody gently.
The recording is very much a child of pandemic consequences. The 14 Jazz Orchestra originally began as a regional band where the band members, over time, dispersed around the country. Through the necessity of the pandemic, the musicians were already acclimated to recording remotely. Add the many talents of Mike Levine, who besides being a pianist and composer here, also played the part of an engineer, creating this seamless project that sounds as if recorded in the studio. this recording is an accomplishment from start to finish.