Saturday, May 4, 2019

Sean Imboden Large Ensemble again provides intriguing music at the Jazz Kitchen

Sean Imboden solos in a ballad feature.
With its shifting personnel resting on a foundation of continuing band members, the Sean Imboden Large Ensemble once again displayed its deep-delving take on contemporary new music for big band at the Jazz Kitchen Friday night. The performance by this minimally rehearsable band came close to realizing all of the leader's considerable demands. If the opportunity ever arose for the ensemble to get settled within these tricky scores, its reputation would spread far and wide.

Heard in the first of two sets, the 17-piece band once again used the leader's arrangement of Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge" as a kind of firm collective punctuation at the end. This time the dueling sax solos— one short phrase following the next in compatible dialogue — were capably delivered by LaMont Webb and Matt Pivec. John Raymond took his second scintillating trumpet solo of the set here,  helping no doubt to build eager anticipation of the set to follow.

After a tense delay while microphone problems were addressed, the band opened the show with an Imboden original, "Hopscotch." which had the jumps between intervals in the theme that the piece's title suggests. Joel Tucker took the first of the set's several assertive guitar solos. He was also key to the coherence of the rhythm section in accompaniment.

As an arranger, Imboden seems to favor chorale-like harmonies as a setting for ballads. In addition, he made "I'll Be Seeing You" a showcase vehicle for one of his rare turns as a tenor-sax soloist. For some reason, the arrangement seemed to fall apart near the end. The quiet ending Imboden  arranged for "Stella by Starlight," which followed, was much more ably handled. That piece featured a winsome alto sax solo by Amanda Gardier.

Imboden's "Horizon" pushed forward a leaping saxophone-section line, typical of the independence the composer gives to the different instrumental choirs. Later, there was  nice ensemble support emerging behind the trombone solo that followed a wry exhibition by trumpeter Kent Hickey. Brian Yarde's drumming made certain the energy supporting the solos never flagged.

An untitled blues, fetching though it was on the surface, acquired depth in solos offered by trombonist Andrew Danforth, with its exciting variation in note values between sustained and jittery, and pianist Chris Pitts, who unfortunately for much of the set could barely be heard. The Imboden ballad "Samadhi,"with its evocation of meditative states, hit some alpha-wave ecstasy in Raymond's florid trumpet solo, capping a showcase for a sophisticated section-to-section blend. It was sufficient to pave the way for that signature romp through "Inner Urge."

[Photo by Mark Sheldon]

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