Friday, June 12, 2020

Young Canadian composer Daniel Hersog shows individuality in big-band debut

Now in his mid-30s, Daniel Hersog seems to have drawn much from his education at Boston's New England Conservatory to take back to his hometown,Vancouver, B.C. Now the trumpeter-composer has built his first big-band CD, "Night Devoid of Stars" (Cellar Music), around the participation of two of the men he got to know there: tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger (classmate) and pianist Frank Carlberg (teacher). 

His imagination is highly charged enough not only to be worthy of his guests, but also to have inspired the 14 other participants in this set of seven tunes, all of them originals except for "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," the Otto Harbach-Jerome Kern evergreen from 1933.

On that tune, Carlberg particularly displays the wry sensibility he can bring to melody and harmony. The familiar tune is refracted from a bent perspective at first in a solo introduction, but it becomes clear from the way the ensemble is used after it enters that Carlberg is reconfirming the arranger's approach. The way the band is nestled in behind the piano shows a surprising maturity, as if Hersog has been writing this sort of thing for years..

Trumpet is his ax, but he lays it aside in "Night Devoid of Stars." 
Apt settings for soloists seem to be a mainstay of Hersog's originals as well. The picturesque "Cloud Break," which opens the CD, presents a well-lit ensemble to shed extra light upon trumpeter Brad Turner's soaring solo. Later when the clouds suggested by the title darken, the sound proves to be just what Preminger's tenor sax needs, its glowering features underlined by Carlberg's insistent work in the background.

Carlberg also sets the mood by channeling gospel piano style in "Motion," with the funky sound deftly brought back from the edge of  cliche by the pastel tints in Hersog's arrangement, with the band smoothly sustaining the low volume level in a way that evokes the bandleader's admiration for Gil Evans. A wide-ranging Preminger solo crowns the performance.

The tenorman's guest appearance seems especially appropriate  in "Makeshift Memorial," in which his wide-ranging improvised melodies always hang smoothly together.  Here and in "Night Devoid of Stars," Hersog gives space for his explicitly stated political worries, though he has the good sense to allow his musical notions to flesh themselves out in a manner that doesn't require a particular interpretation. The title tune opens with an air of mystery, and the way it moves toward a free-jazz episode sounds unforced and, from Carlberg, casts a firm view toward another side of his artistry— the full-canvas dissonant sonority of Cecil Taylor.
An indication that Hersog's music isn't dominated by dour thoughts comes in 'Indelible," where he provides a setting for clarinet soloist Chris Startup that indicates a puckish sense of humor from the one to the many and back again.

Throughout, the band is a nimble communicator of Hersog's diverse ideas, and, if not for some trumpet figures that sound rather hackneyed near the end of "Song for Henrique," a tribute to a Brazilian musician, the listener's impression that a fresh voice in big-band writing has introduced himself will be sustained.

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