Dave Rivello wrote and arranged this session's material, and album notes by Bob Brookmeyer, a respected veteran of the big-band wars, give him immediate credibility. Rivello cites the influence of Brookmeyer and other gifted arrangers including Gil Evans and Manny Albam. Since he also mentions classical composers Stravinsky and Ligeti, you'd be correct in guessing his band won't remind you of Count Basie's or Buddy Rich's. The melodies are more exotic, as are textures and harmonies.
Rivello produces new colors in part by changing the standard big-band configuration. The brass section is six instead of seven, and the reeds go from five to three. The rhythm section remains the familiar piano trio, but it is sometimes used in unfamiliar ways. On "Dancing in Circles," for example, drummer Ted Poor keeps up a continuous out-front push more often heard in smaller combos. Pianist Red Wierenga, to amplify the arrangement's relentless drive, spends much of his background time repeating two notes in unison with bassist Malcolm Kirby.
Rivello applies brass instruments in emphatic layers. Strong playing and the added heft of the tuba mean you won't notice the missing trumpet and trombone. The reed changes are more striking. The meaty sound of five saxes anchored by a baritone is replaced with a set of lighter, more varied voicings. Rivello makes especially good use of his new options on "(of) Time and Time Past," a track that honors the outstanding arrangements Gil Evans wrote for Sketches of Spain. Mike Kaupa captures perfectly the tone and vibe of Miles Davis on that famous album.
Because of Poor's approach and Rivello's Kenton-like blocks of brass ensemble, the band rarely swings in a conventional way. Not that it can't swing or produce moments of beauty. Take a listen to "Sometime." It's one of the most attractive big-band arrangements you'll hear this year, and trumpeter Kaupa's rich tone is a perfect match for Rivello's lush setting. The tune's gentle flow reminds me of some of the best ballad writing of Thad Jones, another arranger who has influenced Rivello. But the more austere melodies and insistent arrangements of "Dancing in Circles" and the opening "One by One by One" are more typical of the release.
Rivello teaches at the Eastman School of Music. Although this is a first recording, for years his band has had a weekly gig in Rochester, New York where the school is located. And so it plays Rivello's sometimes unexpected changes with precision. But then, clean, sure ensemble work seems the norm for hundreds of today's school and professional big-bands. The best of them are distinguished by superior soloists and arranging. Rivello's group merits your attention on both counts. Recommended.