Rivers of Sound Orchestra by Amir ElSaffar – The Other Shore (2021; Outhere Music); Gabriel Zucker – The Leftovers of Beats From The Edges Of Time (2021; ESP-Disk ‘) – Avant Music News
One of the unexpected trends of the last dozen years is the emergence of the pre-jazz big band. The recordings of Darcy James Argue, Anna Webber and Angela Morris, Anthony Braxton, John Korsrud, Dan Weiss, Fred Ho and Brian Krock are just a few examples. As we slowly emerge from a pandemic that has made such gatherings difficult, two more efforts can be added to the growing list.
Amir ElSaffar’s Rivers of Sound Orchestra – The Other Shore
This is the second release of the 17 members of Rivers of Sound Orchestra, the first to come in 2017. Veteran trumpeter Amir ElSaffar leads this formation through a huge new version featuring a melting pot of instruments and music. sounds spanning western jazz, as well as the Middle East. , Asian and North African music. Represented are oud, buzuq, santur, joza, cello, saxophone, oboe, mrudangam, frame drum, drums, retuned piano, vibraphone and guitar, played by a number of well-known musicians from New York and beyond.
The emphasis here is not on jazz played with instruments from around the world or on a jazz band playing non-Western music. Instead, the orchestra mixes techniques, stamps and colors until the result is something new. Of course, one can hear the thick horns of American jazz as well as the spiraling melodies of Arabic music. But there is no dominant style or approach. ElSaffar provides structural advice to the group, so that the rhythms ground each piece. So it’s not free jazz in the strict sense, even if the multi-instrumental improvisations are loose and moaning at times.
But the sheer energy of this recording is contagious. With so much going on throughout, this will definitely be a candidate for repeat plays.
Gabriel Zucker – Leftover Beats from the End of Time
Sometimes you just need to relax with some serious music. Pianist and composer Gabriel Zucker’s latest effort is a double album that covers a dramatic range of musical styles, big band sounds, avant-jazz, artistic song, chamber music and wacky rock. Both experimental and expansive, Leftover beats from the edge of time also includes 17 musicians, although not all of them appear on every track. This lineup is stellar, with Adam O’Farrill, Anna Webber, Yuma Uesaka, Joanna Mattrey, Mariel Roberts, Kate Gentile and Matteo Liberatore among others.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect is Zucker’s shameless and continued use of complexity. Instead of one melody or theme at a time, he often uses two or three, even behind the singers. But this all-out approach is tempered and controlled by Zucker’s graphics. It clearly feels like this chaos is doing exactly what it wants. In the perpetual changes and disciplined strangeness, one can even hear echoes of Henry Cow and U Totem.
There is so much to unwrap in the 90 minutes of this album, that I can’t say anything more than grabbing this one upon its release in late September. It’s dense, modern orchestral music on steroids. Two thumbs up.
Finally, Zucker is a pretty smart guy – he graduated summa cum laude from Yale with a double major in ethics, politics, economics and music, and he holds a master’s degree in applied statistics from Oxford. For the latter, he focused on the applications of machine learning to the administration of social policies.
You can hear the calculation if you listen carefully.