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The Same Thing by Darrell Katz and the Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra

The Same Thing is guitarist / composer / arranger Darrell Katz' fourth album for the august upstate New York-based indie jazz label Cadence Jazz Records (or its CIMP subsidiary). Each features the Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra, an exceptionally limber group based in the Boston area. The CD starts off with 'December 30, 1994,' a performance art piece that integrates Katz' music and arrangements with poetry written by Paula Tatarunis. The poetry, recited and sung by Rebecca Shrimpton, and Katz' theatrical musical setting recounts the shock and outrage felt by many of us over the mass murder of seven people at two women's health clinics located about a mile from where Katz lived. This heavy, rather difficult piece is followed by 'Everybody Loves Ray Charles,' a Mingus-like swinging gospel-infused composition that sounds like something the Vienna Art Orchestra would do. High points include some amazingly tight horn section work, and bracing, freewheeling solos by pianist Dan Tepfer, guitarist Norm Zocher, and alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs. 'I'm Me and You're Not Ha Ha' brings Shrimpton front and center for more vocalizing and more spoken word - her clear, unaffected, almost classical-sounding voice makes the heavy sarcasm of Tatarunis' text all the more effective. The extensive musical sections are quite good, mixing an avant-fusion sort of rhythmic approach with Kentonish horn section stabs and post-Ayler collective improvisation.

'Like A Wind,' based on a Sherwood Anderson text, gives Shrimpton an opportunity to stretch her chops a bit while providing some contrast to the heaviness of the other two vocal pieces. Musically, this is in a somewhat spooky minor-keyed jazz vein, with flutes, vibes, and muted brass front and center. The CD's title track is an engaging interpretation of Willie Dixon's timeless blues classic. Woodstock-era rock and blues veteran Mike Finnigan, best known for his contributions to Jimi Hendrix' Electric Ladyland, lends a bit of authenticity to the proceedings, which work surprisingly well considering the highbrow nature of the rest of the CD. Hobbs again shines on blazing alto, and Finnigan takes an impressive solo turn on the Hammond B-3. I especially enjoyed Katz' guitar work, here. 'Lemmings,' the CDs most experimental piece, features a wind ensemble and some edgy vocalizing by Shrimpton and guest Warren Senders. Coming on the heels of so much heavy, dramatic, and aggressive music, I found this one piece a bit nerve wracking.

Despite a few minor flaws, The Same Thing is a bold and impassioned musical statement from a composer who revels in the myriad possibilities afforded by a talented and flexible big band. One cannot help but admire Katz and the JCA for their dedication and commitment to creative music. Thanks to the contributions of poet Paula Tatarunis and vocalist Rebecca Shrimpton, Katz' complex, politically astute work goes beyond the realm of contemporary music, blurring the line between avant garde jazz and performance art.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Darrell Katz and the Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra
  • CD Title: The Same Thing
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: Cadence Jazz Records
  • Rating: Three Stars
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