Inspired by an affection for the mid-sized bands led by the likes of Shorty Rogers, Marty Paich, Dave Pell, and the piano-less group led by Gerry Mulligan, Geoff Roach explores his passion for composing and arranging for four horns. Combining the heritage of rich voicings and effective use of instrumental colors with the relaxed charm of West-Coast swing, Roach offers the octet know as Octobop.
The new CD, Very Early, follows in the footsteps of Octobop's three previous releases by focusing on a simple message of accessibility with an emphasis on swinging tunes from the great American songbook. The core of Octobop’s sound comes from the well-penned arrangements by leader Geoff Roach, who also plays baritone sax and alto flute, and guitarist Jack Conway.
The album springs into action with a Marty Paich arrangement of "Love Me or Leave Me," featuring tenor sax work by Matt Kesner, who shows his ability to create melodic and playful lines that weave through the rich harmonic background pads of the ensemble. After Kenser’s solo, Octobop clearly demonstrates their long time chemistry by displaying their cohesive ensemble work throughout the shout chorus, which features various uses of dynamics, nice motific development of the melody and rich Basie-esque voicings.
"Very Early" displays Conway’s arranging abilities. The arrangement is a statement in controlling and developing the harmonic movement of the multi-tonal composition with rich horn voicings, that holds true to Pianist Bill Evans complex voicing style. After playing the melody in a slow relaxed waltz tempo, Conway transitions the tempo to a nice mid-tempo walking waltz for the solos, which all clearly state the moving harmony as well as develop the melody.
Roach provides a fine arrangement of the Charles Mingus tune "Good Bye Pork Pie Hat," Mingus’s homage to Lester "Prez"Young. Brockhouse’s electric bass kicks off the selection followed by the haunting melody being cleverly dispersed between the various instruments in the ensemble. The ensemble work is tight and the arrangement always keeps the mood swinging and accessible to the listener, which is the theme throughout the entire CD.
Very Early’s production is fidelically well rounded. The ensemble is well balanced in the stereo field with a clear focused sound for the audiophile. The selections have a nice flow and the various instrumentations and styles keep the CD pleasing for the duration.
Overall, the CD is enjoyable; there is nothing groundbreaking here, not to say that Very Early is boring, the emphasis is just on presenting a selection of standards with a focus on well-written arrangements. The result is a nice tribute to the West-Coast "Cool Jazz" sound that Octobop is truly committed to producing with their exceedingly accessible latest offering.