Big Heart Machine – Big Heart Machine [TrackList follows] – Outside in Music OIM 1808 60:00 [8/24/18] ****:

Most large ensemble jazz projects use standard jazz forms and tunes. Saxophonist/composer Brian Krock has a different aspect to the debut of his 19-member band, Big Heart Machine. While there are certainly many jazz features to the hour-long, eight-track outing, the material also has weighty parts inspired by heavy metal and prog rockers such as Swedish extreme metallists Meshuggah, thrash metal group Megadeth and Rush. Yet the aggressive stance is not overpowering and often is softened by traditional jazz characteristics as well as classical influences such as Olivier Messiaen and György Ligeti. Obviously, such disparities are a difficult combination to pull off on one album with a big group. Krock was able to realize his accomplishment with able folks, including Secret Society founder Darcy James Argue as producer (one of Krock’s major idols), conductor Miho Hazama and an assemblage of saxophones, flutes, clarinets, trumpets, flugelhorns, keyboards, bass, drums and Finnish guitarist Olli Hirvonen, a frequent Krock collaborator who shares Krock’s across-the-board musical tastes.

The CD’s principal extent is the “Tamalpais” suite, the album’s cornerstone which consists of five parts: “Stratus,” “Steep Ravine,” “Stinson Beach,” “Dipsea Steps” and “Cirrus.” The multi-tiered epic is based on the Tamalpais area in Northern California, which comprises Mt. Tamalpais, a favorite rural expanse where Krock and his sister have hiked the bends and twists, ravines and woods; and visited the nearby seashore. Krock’s suite alternately is reflective and meditative, forceful and hard-hitting. Hirvonen delivers a graphic, amplified shock during the nine-minute “Steep Ravine” and maintains some of the same guitar lashing near the conclusion of the otherwise lovely “Stinson Beach,” which starts out with a melodious flugelhorn introduction. “Stinson Beach” is mainly focused on a placid theme which has an Ellingtonian attribute. By the end, the arrangement gets bolder and more intense, signifying the roaring waves and the raw energy of the Pacific Ocean, and that’s when Hirvonen’s authoritative guitar takes center stage. “Dipsea Steps”—the suite’s fourth section—has drummer Josh Bailey crafting a digital-like percussive rhythm which acts as an underpinning for the cohesive reeds and brass which rise and ebb. Hirvonen also upsurges and recedes at unpredictable moments with his powered guitar chords. The “Tamalpais” suite closes with the at-times ethereal “Cirrus,” where higher-register horns (clarinet, flute, etc.) are the emphasis and an almost ambient tone rolls along with aplomb.

Krock’s other, shorter compositions are equally intriguing. The variable, nine-minute “Jelly Cat” has a Mingus-like quality, with lots of wonderful spots for the sax, trombone and clarinet and room for individual soloing amongst the concentrated ensemble. The seven-minute, fusion opener, “Don’t Analyze,” has an opaque, improvisational essence, which is apt because Krock penned the piece without editing his compositional choices. “Don’t Analyze” is accentuated by lower-register horns, cascading electric bass, Arcoiris Sandoval’s upfront synthesizer, Krock’s oscillating alto sax and Bailey’s determined drums and percussion. Big Heart Machine finishes with the ten-minute “Mighty Purty,” which contains contributions from Nolan Tsang on trumpet, Paul Jones on tenor saxophone and Isaac Kaplan on trombone. Imagine Ellington covering Monk and you’ll have an idea of the roundabout dissonances and angular melodic spirals which populate “Mighty Purty.” If anyone is a large ensemble jazz listener and a fan of likeminded composers and/or conductors such as Maria Schneider, the aforementioned Darcy James Argue or Michael Gibbs than Big Heart Machine should be heard.

Performing Artists:
Miho Hazama – conductor; Charlotte Greve – soprano and alto saxophone, clarinet, flute, sopranino recorder; Brian Krock – alto saxophone, clarinet, piccolo, flute, alto flute, soprano recorder; Timo Vollbrecht – tenor and soprano saxophone, clarinet, soprano recorder; Paul Jones – tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute, alto recorder; Jay Ratmann – baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, clarinet, flute, tenor recorder; John Lake, Nolan Tsang, Cody Rowlands – trumpet, flugelhorn; Nick Grinder, Christ Misch-Bloxdorf, Isaac Kaplan – trombone; Jennifer Wharton – bass trombone; Yuhan Su – vibraphone; Arcoiris Sandoval – piano, synthesizer; Olli Hirvonen – electric guitar; Marty Kenney – electric and upright bass; Josh Bailey – drums, percussion; Darcy James Argue – producer

TrackList:
Don’t Analyze
Tamalpais I – (Stratus)
Tamalpais II – Steep Ravine
Tamalpais III – Stinson Beach
Tamalpais IV – Dipsea Steps
Tamalpais V – (Cirrus)
Jelly Cat
Mighty Purty

—Doug Simpson