Fresh Cut Orchestra – From the Vine [TrackList follows] – FCO/RopeaDope FCO-001, 46:00 [2/17/15] ***1/2:
(Mark Allen – baritone & soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, flute; Mike Cemprola – alto & tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, flute; Brent White – trombone; Brian Marsella – acoustic piano, Rhodes electric piano, keyboards; Matt Davis – guitar; Tim Conley – laptop, electric guitar; Francois Zayas – bongos, percussion; Josh Lawrence – trumpet, co-producer; Jason Fraticelli – upright bass, co-producer; Anwar Marshall – drums, co-producer)
Birth, life, and death: the progression of existence. That’s the circling motif which pushes through much of From the Vine, the debut by Philadelphia’s modern-jazz big band, the Fresh Cut Orchestra, or the FCO. The FCO came together in 2012 to fulfill a commission from a local Philly music/art center; further grant money offered the opportunity to put the FCO into a recording facility. The result, as the ensemble’s moniker indicates, is a fresh take on large-group jazz. This isn’t big band music as it was once known, although the material is anchored by traditionalism. There are contemporary aspects such as Rhodes electric piano, choppy electric guitar and a DJ with a laptop. But at its core, From the Vine retains a compelling melodic axis. Which means this music should appeal to older jazz fans as well as younger listeners who gravitate to music somewhat outside the sphere of pure jazz. Those interested in hearing the entire album can stream it online.
The FCO is led by trumpeter Josh Lawrence; drummer Anwar Marshall; and upright bassist Jason Fraticelli. The FCO is bolstered by a horn unit (trombone, saxophones, clarinet, flutes, and bass clarinets), a keyboardist, two guitars, the aforementioned laptop, and a percussionist. The 46-minute, nine-track project is split between the three leaders, although Fraticelli’s contribution, the seven-section work dubbed “The Mother’s Suite,” is the record’s centerpiece. The extensive undertaking was inspired by the loss of Fraticelli’s mother-in-law and the birth of his son. Fraticelli states, “Seeing my wife lose her mom and become a mom so quickly was a really intense, in some weird ways, beautiful experience of the cycle of life.” Counterbalanced electronic treatments, polytonal touches and modern jazz, rock and Latin jazz tinges are knitted into the suite’s extended arrangement. The opening portion “Birth of a Child, Birth of a Mom,” includes moody laptop elements; exotic bird calls and percussion akin to Martin Denny’s creations; harmonic horns; underlying Rhodes electric piano and weaving rhythmic slices. The hopeful and upbeat “Mother’s Love” utilizes saxophonists Mike Cemprola and Mark Allen, who add snappy notes which navigate above an effective beat, while an assertive melodicism stays at the forefront. This maneuver—maintaining a strong melody even amongst different instrumental sounds—carries through this tune, as well as the rest of the material. The remainder of the suite comprises other quantities that provide various layers. “Ritual of a Take” is accentuated by Afro-Cuban percussion; the somber “Elegy for a Mom” is a sublime, Fraticelli bass solo which moves from sensitive to impassioned. His use of amplification and light reverb supplies a fusion-like measure. Electric fusion, analogous to the early days of the band Chicago, is the focus of the metaphysical-inclined “Migration of the Spirit,” which careens with rock-propelled electric guitar, pulsing drums, bass and massed horns. A stimulating spin traverses the suite’s lengthy, closing number, “The Reawakening,” which whisks along with a fast, swinging cadence, with plenty of space for Brian Marsella’s electric piano and Allen’s soprano saxophone. Despite the cut’s long-ish arrangement, one never tires of the heady groove, which is often a mainstay of much Philadelphia jazz and pop music.
Lawrence’s six-minute “Uptown Romance” has an established and cosmopolitan texture. The collective horns and the melodic foundation evoke Duke Ellington and likeminded arranger/composers. There is lots of room for soloing from Lawrence and Marsella (who shines and swings on acoustic piano), while the horns share an interlaced interaction which showcases the FCO’s deft arranging. Marshal’s concluding track, the very progressive “Sanguine” is anything but what that title might suggest. Rock and DJ/dance components give this piece a forward-thinking impetus which traditional jazz enthusiasts may find off-putting (the arrangement is comparable to Travis Sullivan’s Björkestra), although at its heart, “Sanguine” incorporates a historical jazz recipe: the ingredients are just fashioned via present-day tastes. The diverse assortment of influences can sometimes seem to impel FCO into multiple courses, but the melodic content and persevering grooves sustain a sturdy degree of coherence, connectedness and communication. Luckily, this debut is the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Other music has already been placed onto tape for successive FCO releases, and additional compositions have been written. Fraticelli reveals, “We’re just getting started.”
TrackList: The Mother’s Suite: I. Birth of a Child, Birth of a Mom. II. Mother’s Love. III. Ritual of a Take. Elegy for a Mom – IV: The Funeral. V. Migration of the Spirit. VI. The Reawakening; Uptown Romance; Sanguine.