There’s a majestic feeling to the opening of Solidarity, the title track of a release by Matt Lavelle’s 12 Houses. This reed-heavy 17 piece ensemble also features an extended rhythm section with guitar, piano, banjo, bass, vibes, and drums, along with violin, cello and voice. Some of the places that conductor/composer Lavelle has his unit visit are not unexpected, like saxophonists popping out of the ensemble for brash solos amid flowing and changeable backdrops. But Lavelle is a wily musical organizer who nudges the group into some unexpectedly quiet zones as well as whip them up into a frenzy like the exhilarating last minute of Solidarity. Clearly this is a man who knows well the capabilities and the sounds of the members of the unit. Brooklyn Mountain, which sounds like an excerpt from a longer performance, offers extended interplay among pianist Chris Forbes, tenor saxophone soloist Ras Moshe, and the mass of horns brought in and out of the picture via Lavelle’s conducting. Violinist Laura Ortman and cellist Gil Selinger are prominent on the ethereal but thorny Knee Braces, cushioned by thick swirls of chords from massed reeds and understated rhythms. This partly improvised tone poem is largely soothing and restful, especially when contrasted with some of the other tracks. Lavelle puts on a show for the opening two minutes of Cherry Swing, with a lengthy, cogent, and wide-ranging cornet solo over minimalist percussion accompaniment. When the full band kicks in with a wallop, Lavelle takes a second solo, playing with fiery, rapid-fire gusto. He’s followed by Jack DeSalvo with an ornery banjo solo before the ensemble pours back in to make a mighty noise. While Anaïs Maviel’s voice is usually used as part of the ensemble, her unhinged vocals on the finale, a warped New Orleans-styled collective improvisation are a bit unnerving. But a little shaking up is good for you, at least musically speaking, and if you’ve made it this far, you’ll be having too good a time with Chris Forbes’ rollicking piano and the rhythmic bounce of bass and percussion to be bothered very much. Solidarity presents an unusual big band in a variety of stylistic approaches, held together by Lavelle’s vision and his command of the possibilities of his group. Definitely worth a listen.
– STUART KREMSKY, Mr. Stu’s Record Room http://skremsky.tumblr.com/post/152748252400/matt-lavelles 12-houses-solidarity
Unseen Rain UR-9945; Matt Lavelle (cnt, fl, alto cl) Lee Odom (ss, cl) Charles Waters (as, cl) Ras Moshe Burnett (ts, ss, fl, bells) Tim Stocker (bars, bcl) Mary Cherney (fl, picc) Claire De Brunner (bassoon) Chris Forbes (p) Laura Ortman (vln) Gil Selinger (clo) Anders Nilsson (g) Jack DeSalvo (bjo, mandola) John Pietaro (vib, perc) François Grillot (b) Ryan Sawyer (d) Anaïs Maviel (vcl); Brooklyn, NY, November 2014; Solidarity/ Brooklyn Mountain/ Knee Braces/ Cherry Swing/ Moonflower Interlude/ Faith; 48:53.