Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

Orchestre National de Jazz – Shut Up and Dance – Bee Jazz Bee (2 CDs)

Dance music designed more for the brain than the body.

Published on April 30, 2012

Orchestre National de Jazz – Shut Up and Dance – Bee Jazz Bee  (2 CDs)

Orchestre National de Jazz – Shut Up and Dance [4/19/11] – Bee Jazz Bee 042, (2 CDs) 44:13; 40:24 ****:

(Daniel Yvinec – artistic director; Eve Risser – piano, prepared piano, flute; Vincent Lafont – keyboards, piano, electronics; Antonin-Tri Hoang – alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, piano; Matthieu Metzger – alto, soprano and MIDI saxophones, trombophone; Rémi Dumoulin– tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Joce Mienniel – piccolo, flute, bass flute, electronic treatments; Guillaume Poncelet – trumpet, flugelhorn, keyboards; Pierre Perchaud – electric and acoustic guitars, banjo; Sylvain Daniel – electric bass; Yoann Serra – drums; all band members – tuned percussion tubes (track 6, CD 1))

The music of composer John Hollenbeck and France’s Orchestre National de Jazz (known to fans as ONJ) does not get the wider attention they both deserve: which is why listeners should take notice of Hollenbeck and ONJ’s collaboration, Shut Up and Dance. The two-CD collection (issued in Europe in 2010 and stateside a year ago) offers Hollenbeck’s mini-concertos written expressly to showcase the personalities of ten ONJ members while also focusing on the broader aspects of rhythm and beat. Hollenbeck is probably best renowned for the material he’s penned for The Claudia Quintet, which includes recent releases such as last year’s What Is the Beautiful? (which has contributions from Kurt Elling) or 2010’s Royal Toast (with pianist Gary Versace).  Orchestre National de Jazz (under the current leadership of artistic director Daniel Yvinec) has charted a unique musical path over the last quarter century, with projects that have had Mediterranean flavoring as well as tributes related to Billie Holiday, art rock pioneer Robert Wyatt and more. The Wyatt sessions were Yvinec’s first foray with ONJ; Shut Up and Dance is his second ONJ production.

Percussion is everywhere. Over the course of 80+ minutes, an abundance of instruments (prepared piano, electronics, flutes, drums, saxes, guitars and more) demonstrate a powerful blending of melodic passages with repeating tones which rove from jazz to electronic music, and from hints of Duke Ellington-like swing to amped-up fusion. Despite the blunt album title, the material more often evokes dance in its ritualistic or non-secular qualities than any overt attempt to shake booty: this is music designed to stimulate or stir the brain rather than move the body. But, as stated, rhythm is everywhere and is spotlighted in distinctive and meticulous modes. After a brief prologue, for example, the ensemble begins with “Melissa Dance,” composed to reveal saxophonist/clarinetist Antonin-Tri Hoang’s persona. While drums, piano, electronic elements and other horns maintain a reflective groove, Hoang provides lengthy and soaring improvisations which keep the tune grounded in jazz, until the arrangement shifts to a rock-inclined section where electric guitar and keyboards share space with bass clarinet. There is a clockwork cadence which simmers throughout the post-bop piece “Flying Dream,” a platform for guitarist Pierre Perchaud. The wind instruments drive the beat while Perchaud layers in his effects-laden guitar, sometimes recalling John Scofield’s distorted tonality. The first CD’s preeminent feature is the wide-ranging “Shaking Peace,” which centers on pianist Eve Risser’s temperament. Risser is the principal instrumentalist during this impressionistic tune, with wind and brass utilized for counterbalance and accentuation. There are points of clipped percussion from a myriad of instruments (banjo, prepared piano, assorted percussion) which supplement the cyclic arrangement in ways which suggest Steve Reich or Philip Glass. CD 1 concludes with the brief “Boom,” where the whole group employs tuned PVC tubing and sampled sounds (fragmented dialogue, buzzing insects, frogs) to create an all-percussion introduction which segues into “Bob Walk,” a jazz-drenched tribute to trombonist Bob Brookmeyer (Hollenbeck was part of Brookmeyer’s New Art Orchestra). Here, Matthieu Metzger is front and center with his one-of-a-kind trombophone, which helps Metzger emulate Brookmeyer’s fluid modernity while the band strikes a slightly Zappa-esque mannerism.

The second compact disc is as far-reaching as the first disc. The bright and bouncy “Tongs of Joy” is a funk-filled fusion number which pinpoints keyboardist Vincent Lafont, who offers electronic keyboards reminiscent of early-‘70s Herbie Hancock. On the flipside is “Praya Dance,” an ear-catching mélange of Indo-Asian influences and pointillist percussive parts heightened by Joce Mienniel’s flute input which lies halfway between late-‘60s era Hubert Laws and the earthiness of Jeremy Steig’s 1970s output. The other three tracks are also interesting and put the accent on other ONJ players. The harmonically advanced “Falling Men” is approachable but retains an insider/outsider perspective, and brings out the best from Guillaume Poncelet on trumpet and flugelhorn. There is an ECM-like ambiance which permeates “Life Still,” ostensibly created for electric bassist Sylvain Daniel, although ethereal wind instruments and what sounds like a harp (but isn’t) soften the track into a minimalist-tinged mood. The second disc wraps up with the longest cut, “The Power of Water,” which includes electronic-dance ornamentations, a repeating rhythmic motif (conveyed mostly by the horns) and has a whiff of prog rock (think 1990s King Crimson) and a freer portion where drummer Yoann Serra asserts his drum kit fortitude. It is obvious while hearing Shut Up and Dance that this is an album of progressive big band jazz which illuminates both the musical kinship of Orchestre National de Jazz and John Hollenbeck’s dynamic and scrupulously intriguing compositions. That mark of detailed depth carries over to Gilles Olivesi and Boris Darley’s engineering and mixing mastery, delivered with warmth and width, where the bass tones bound out of the speakers and the higher registers are clear and concise. For those who want further information, there is a short, nine-minute promotional film in English and French, wherein Yvinec and Hollenbeck explain how the project got started and the compositional methodology, with snippets from several tunes, and video footage of the sessions which reveals how traditional jazz instruments where used alongside electronics and avant-garde touches like prepared piano.

CD 1: Up; Melissa Dance; Flying Dream; Shaking Peace; Racing Heart, Heart Racing; Boom (intro); Bob Walk (tribute to Bob Brookmeyer).
CD 2: Tongs of Joy; Praya Dance; Falling Men; Life Still; The Power of Water.

—Doug Simpson

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