Adam Unsworth, Byron Olson, John Vanore – Balance – Acoustical Concepts Records

Adam Unsworth, Byron Olson, John Vanore – Balance – Acoustical Concepts Records AC-48, 58:46 (1/28/14) ****1/2 :

(Adam Unsworth – French horn; John Vanore – trumpet and Flugelhorn; Bob Mallach – tenor sax; Bill Mays – piano; Mike Richmond – bass; Danny Gottlieb – drums. With large chamber ensemble, and as a jazz sextet with woodwinds and string quartet)

The usage of the French horn in jazz has always been limited (which is a shame). Going back to the late 1940s and into the 1950s the horn was introduced into jazz by the Claude Thornhill Orchestra. Soon following was Julius Watkins, who played with Milt Buckner before branching out on his own with some sessions as a leader. John Graas, a distinguished horn layer on the West coast, was a very active player on the emerging LA scene. Willie Ruff was active in Lionel Hampton’s band at that time as well. Then for an extended period of time, there was little use of the French horn in jazz sessions, except at the time of Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool period.

Today John Clark is the most well-known jazz French horn jazz artist. It was a welcome surprise when I heard about Balance, a recent release of orchestral jazz featuring Adam Unsworth, a current member of the Gil Evans Centennial Band, playing arrangements and compositions of Byron Olson, along with a strong horn section of trumpeter John Vanore, and veteran saxist, Bob Mallach. Backed by the brilliant pianist Bill Mays, bassist Mike Richmond, and drummer Danny Gottlieb, the group played in two sessions – in Philadelphia with a full string chamber ensemble and in New York with a smaller woodwind accompaniment as well as a string quartet.

Playing all original compositions of Unworth and Olson, the finished product is a refreshing, invigorating, orchestral music meets jazz concept that will please fans of both genres, along with lovers of film music. Adam Unsworth is a major French horn discovery for jazz fans. Formerly with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Adam’s tone is full and throaty with a warm inventive melodicism that jumps to the forefront of the sound mix. His blending with the strings and woodwinds is magical and takes the listener on fanciful flights of lyrical bliss. Mates Vanore and Malach’s ensemble blend is spot on.

The addition of the strings and woodwinds have an Americana motif that brings to mind Aaron Copland in their deeply relaxing and fanciful turns.

Rather than single out specific tracks for consideration, it is more a case of taking in the whole project as a whole. You’ll find some blues influence on “Blues Nocturne,” but its more a case of jazz swing meeting warm chamber orchestral arrangements. The jazz sextet members usually take center stage (Mallach has some strong solo sections), and Bill Mays provides his usual stellar piano stylings, though here more in a background manner.

The music found on Balance would be at home in an orchestral hall, in a larger jazz club, or used on a movie soundtrack. The sextet grooves, and the strings and woodwinds just sweeten the pot that much more. Highly recommended!

TrackList: Balance, Flow, Bittersweet, Tilt, Blues Nocturne, Michele, One Last Fling, Find Your Way

—Jeff Krow

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