It’s not sure whether pianist Lao Tizer thinks of his ensemble as a jazz big band, but jazz may well have taken the group to its heart already – and even if some have not there is every chance that they will very soon. Whip smart, unpredictable and open to the craziest ideas out there, the prodigiously-gifted musician from Boulder, Colorado and his big band tick all the boxes: their last album Downbeat certainly gave notice that Mr. Tizer and the musicians were already possessed with a musical approach that was well-formed and mature, and combined various styles – past, present and (with deft use of an electronic palette) futuristic as well.
This latest (2018) recording The Songs from the Swinghouse has been captured exquisitely by as audio and video by the celebrated (audio) engineer, Paul Wickliffe and equally celebrated video director Andy LaViolette. The live recording is a manic “after hours” session made over three days at Conway Studios in Hollywood and features a cast of eighteen star musicians including regulars such as Karen Briggs who breathes fire and brimstone with her violin, leading a string quartet. There is also saxophonist Eric Marienthal, and multi-instrumentalist Steve Nieves. The band also includes a thundering rhythm section that includes bassists Ric Fierabracci and Cheikh Ndoye together with drumming dynamo Gene Coye and the percussion colourist Munyungo Jackson; and on three songs including U2’s fabled “Pride (In The Name of Love)” and Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On”, both of which have been adorned by the pure voice and high-flying vocalastics of Tita Hutchinson.
The result is a mighty session that becomes a volcanic mix of musical styles grounded in jazzy improvisation, but every once and a while reaching out into the world of rock, soul, funk and electro-pop styles. With the music surging from one explosive high to another, the highlight of the album comes, almost unexpectedly, in the relative quietude of Mr. Tizer’s rhapsodic song “To Touch The Sky” which evolves from a melancholy piano melody into a section where the rumble of the percussionists and bassist hold sway along with a gossamer web of strings that holds it all together swaying gently until the big climax of the piece returns the piece back to the hushed opening chords and a traipsing right hand playing delicate runs and arpeggios interspersed by parabolic phrases marked by tinkling triads and octaves ending in a short sigh.
After the fireworks of the opening part of the album, to just past half of it, the music is much quieter; more profound, if you will. Cat Stevens’ “Lisa” is absolutely gorgeous and is perfectly nailed by the vocal of Miss Hutchinson and the never-ending hold she puts on the ends of the B lines in each verse. Mr Marienthal’s delicately high-spring soprano saxophone and guitarist Chieli Minucci’s elementally beautiful performance on the acoustic guitar glimmer like light rippling on water as the album ends – perhaps too soon. Mr. LaViolette, who has raised the visual documentation of music to new levels of artistry more than compensates for end of the audio programme. His DVD adds another hour and a quarter of exquisitely shot footage and smart editing to this memorable package.
Tracklist – 1: The Source; 2: 16th Heaven; 3: Forever Searching; 4: Pride (In the Name of Love); 5: A Prayer for Unity; 6: Metropolis; 7: Ramble On; 8: To Touch the Sky; 9: Sad Lisa; Bonus Tracks (also on DVD) 10: Codes; 11: Forever Searching (Duet)
Personnel – Lao Tizer: piano, Fender Rhodes (1 – 7, 10), keyboards (1, 3, 5); Carey Frank: Hammond B3 organ (1, 5, 7); Karen Briggs: violin (2, 3, 10, 11) and first violin (5 – 8); Rachel Grace: second violin (6 – 8); Nikki Shorts: viola (5, 7); Artyom Manukyan: cello (5, 7); Chieli Minucci: electric guitar (1, 4, 10), acoustic guitar (2, 3, 5, 7 – 9), guitar (6); Jeffery Marshall: guitar; Eric Marienthal: alto saxophone (1 – 3, 6, 10); Steve Nieves: tenor saxophone (1, 3, 4, 6), EWI (5); Ryan Dragon: trombone (1, 6); Bijon Watson: trumpet (1, 6) and flugelhorn (1, 3, 10); Ric Fierabracci: bass (1, 2, 7, 8, 10), fretless bass (5, 6) and contrabass (9); Anthony Crawford: bass; Cheikh NDoye: bass (3, 4) and ngoni bass (6); Gene Coye: drums (1 – 10); Munyungo Jackson:
percussion (1 – 10); Lolly Allen: marimba (10); (CD only) Tita Hutchinson: vocals (4, 7, 9); DVD Tracks 1 – 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11
Released – 2018
Label – Yse Records
Runtime – 1:34:14