[Dixielandjazz] Arrangements vs. Improvisation

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue Mar 18 09:20:48 PST 2003

Below is an interesting (IMO) jazz band review that touches upon several
views of "Jazz". First, improv vs. arrangements. Then, the broader
question, where is jazz going?

Is this group OKOM? I don't know, haven't heard them. But, it does
include some great players some of whom I have heard, like Wycliffe
Gordon and Marcus Strickland. And it does include references to the
music of Basie, and Ellington.

And the idea of mixing styles from different eras appeals to me.  As
well as the last sentence in the review pointing out that: "this was a
tremendous rhythm section, kicking the horn players ahead and eliciting
shouts from the audience."

That sounds like OKOM to me.

Steve Barbone

March 18, 2003

Proof That Improvisation Needn't Always Dominate


      The pianist Eric Reed is wary of solos. Not that he banishes them
from his septet: at the Village Vanguard last Tuesday, the longer solos
by the trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and the alto saxophonist Brad Leali were
among the most soulful and exciting I've heard recently.

But by and large this was a highly arranged music in which tightly
written parts for the horns provided at least as much action as the
improvised sections.

Most bands don't play regularly enough to find that magic, cohesive,
intuitive ideal in which the significance of composed material just
melts away. Mr. Reed's septet, which has made one record and hasn't
performed often since the first time New Yorkers saw it in 1999, is no

The lineup has changed since then but is now at its best. It contains
some of the New York jazz scene's most promising young players (the
tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland and Mr. Pelt), a comparative unknown
in Mr. Leali (he has been hidden away from the jazz clubs in a steady
job with the Count Basie
ghost band) and the trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, who has always, in my
memory of many performances, played exceptionally well.

And anyway, Mr. Reed clearly likes to compose. His tunes are not simple
or even deceptively simple: there's not much idiomatic coasting in his
music. He creates suites and portraits, fitted out with old-fashioned
devices like tone-painting (a drunk weaving down a staircase in "Boo Boo
Strikes Again") or
colliding styles from different eras (the pianist's ragtime against the
horn section's swing arrangements in "Romantic Rag").

He didn't do all sextet music, either. Toward the end of the set he sent
the horn players away, leaving just his trio onstage for uptempo swing
and then a creeping, Ellingtonian gospel piece called "A Love Divine."

Whereas Mr. Reed's septet used to seem a bit like a trio with horns
added on, now the horns are more integrated into the total picture by
the leader's arrangements. But that's not to lessen the contribution of
Mr. Reed, the bassist Barak Mori and the drummer Rodney Green:
especially at fast tempos, this was a tremendous rhythm section, kicking
the horn players ahead and eliciting shouts from the audience.

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list