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Big(ger) Band Free Jazz: Ratchet Orchestra & Sonic Liberation Front

Paul Acquaro, The Free Jazz Collective, 15 novembre 2012

I thoroughly enjoy orchestral music, big bands, symphonic adventures and daring arrangements, but I sometimes wonder, how do you pull off balancing writing and arranging with the spontaneity and subtle interactions found in smaller ensembles?

To present an entirely non-scientific and inconclusive answer, I offer two case studies, the 30 piece Ratchet Orchestra from Montréal and the sprawling Sonic Liberation Front from Philadelphia.

According to a short bio, Canada’s Ratchet Orchestra leader Nicolas Caloia has for over 20 years, “worked at creating a contemporary music generated by using accurately composed textures to channel collective improvisation.”

If the guitar break about a quarter of the way into Dusty can be used as illustration, Caloia succeeds astoundingly well. From a prickly drip of melodic snippets to a full on skronk, joined by other woodwind voices, to some classic Fender Rhodes comping, the delicate orchestration that kick off the album (Winnow) give way to a full bodied group improvization. This is followed by the thoroughly composed and orchestrated snippet Yield, which is kind of fun light classical-pastiche. And so on through different approaches and styles, like Wish-Part 1 which is a avant-fusiony gem. While my attention drifted a tad towards the end, the closing Hemlock — part 2 snapped me back to attention.

There is a great deal of variety on Hemlock. It is thoughtfully constructed and there are moments of inspiration and spontaneity throughout. (…)

So, do I answer my original question? Honestly, I’m not sure. Elements of composition and free playing are approached here in two very different ways, from the quiet sonic constructions of Hemlock to the Afro-Cuban stylistics of Jetway Confidential, all I can definitively say is that there is indeed a lot of room under the free jazz tent and the music is fantastic.

… all I can definitively say is that there is indeed a lot of room under the free jazz tent and the music is fantastic.

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