Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Musical Magic while "Hiding Out" Mike Holober and The Gotham Jazz Orchestra

Mike Holober:The Gotham Jazz Orchestra Hiding Out  Zoho  ZM201906

The pianist/composer/arranger/educator Mike Holober is a man of many gifts. His guiding leadership has been a quiet but effective force behind some creative and moving big band projects in the last several years. You may not be aware of his work, but that’s barely an excuse to miss this man’s excellent and modern contributions to the world of music. 

Holober is a classically trained pianist whose career in jazz started to emerge in 1986 when he moved to New York.  He began building a reputation as a pianist and arranger when working with the talented baritone saxophonist Nick Brigola in the late 90’s. His talent as a serious chart master is respected among his peers. Mike was the Director/Conductor of the Westchester Jazz Orchestra (WJO) for over six years where he wrote and arranged for artists as renowned as Joe Lovano, Kate McGarry, John Scofield and Randy Brecker, to name a few. I was fortunate enough to catch him and this band for several impressive performances when I lived in CT and I was immediately interested in this man's trajectory.

He has also been invited to write and conduct esteemed European big Bands like the HR Big Band and the WDR Big Band, where he wrote, arranged and conducted for noted artists like Kurt Rosenwinkel, Al Foster, Billy Cobham and Miguel Zenon. Mr.  Holober also served as the Associate Director of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop with Director Jim McNeely for several years. He has maintained a working quintet whose debut album Canyon was released in 2003, and his big band The Gotham Jazz Orchestra (GJO) first recording Thought Trains is from 1996 but was finally released in 2004. Mr. Holober teaches at Manhattan School of Music and is a full professor at the City College of New York.

Mike’s latest release from the GJO is a meaty, two-disc project titled Hiding Out and will be released on Zoho Records on August 9, 2019. The album includes an arrangement of the Antonio Carlos Jobim composition “Carminhos Cruzados,” which Mike re imagined as a vehicle for virtuoso trumpeter Marvin Stamm,  two suites “Flow”, commissioned by the Westchester Jazz Orchestra, and the “Hiding Out” suite commissioned by The Philadelphia Museum of Art. As with many of Mike’s modern projects, his Gotham Jazz Orchestra is made up of a group of first call musicians based out of the New York area.  The “Hiding Out” suite was crafted at a 20,000- acre ranch in northeastern Wyoming with a view of the snow-capped Big Horn Mountains. The “Flow” suite was penned at the famed MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where artists liked Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein found a wellspring of inspiration at the bucolic setting.
Mike Holober (photo credit unknown)
Holober has often seen his work as a balancing act between his love of outdoors and his passion for creating music. It’s not surprising that these two suites balance the excitement and awe of nature with the urbanity and exuberance of the life of a New York based jazz musician.

There is a lot to listen to and absorb. “Rumble,” originally written for the US Army Jazz Nights in 2008,  opens the first cd and is  named for an isolated lake in the Sierra Nevada. The stream of sounds that emerge from this taut machine pulse and probe like a unified aqueous body in motion.  Holober guides his group with precision, but like an impressionistic painter, he allows for the band to have its own organic aspiration, its own distinct vitality. Like a painter, Holober loves to introduce colors to his palette, like the fusion-dated sound of  his Rhodes, Jon Gordon’s piquant alto and Jesse Lewis’ shredding electric guitar work too. The result is a thoroughly modern piece that just gets more enjoyable  the more you listen to it.

Movement one of “Flow” is titled “Tears of Clouds” and opens with a peaceful section that builds upon a wavy, undulating rhythmic feel. Holober piano and rhythm section creates a repeating motif that simulates the sound of falling water in a slow but persistent drip. The searching, urgent tenor saxophone of Jason Rigby is the sole voice that is featured above the band, as Holober’s arrangement allows the band to employ deft use of tension and release.  

“Opalescence” opens with Marvin Stamm’s clarion trumpet as the band plays the almost liturgical sounding music behind him. Stamm is a master of tone and expression and Holober’s song utilizes his strengths beautifully. Mid song, Stamm changes to the more mellow flugelhorn and Holober’s piano accompaniment is superb and expressive. As the pace changes, the vibrant bass of John Herbert beautifully anchors the song with a firm pulse.

“Interlude” is a short but potent composition that features what feels like a spiritual Native American inspired solo on penny whistle by Ben Kono. There is an authentic Americana feel ( in a true sense) to this peaceful song that transitions into a more urban inspired composition “Harlem” with the saxophone solo by altoist Billy Drews and joined by bassist Herbert and drummer Mark Ferber. The arrangement has a more traditional, almost Ellingtonian- inspired big band feel; full of swing and energy. Trumpeter Scott Wendholt offers a high energy, upper register solo that raises this one. Holober utilizes a series of rhythmic changes during the composition. He effectively employs the explosive drums of Ferber and the booming bass line of Herbert as the foundation to allow the big band to pulse using well timed sectional accents. About three quarters through, Holober’s piano shifts from lyrical to driving and this sends the band into a more excited fury, allowing several band members to break out in featured solos that erupt with passion.

The title of this suite “Hiding Out” has a dual meaning. Despite his respected reputation, the musician feels that he has previously “hidden” in a way by concentrating his musical skills  as a sideman, an arranger for others and an educator.  Holober also likens the title “Hiding Out” to his frequent escape to the reinvigorating environs of natural beauty and majesty-places that allow him to concentrate on creation.

Conductor Mike Holober (photo credit unknown)

“It Was Just the Wind” is perhaps the most adventurous composition of the suite. In many respects “Hiding Out” is the most recent effort by Holober to enrich the world of music by composing with his own personal vision in mind. The suite is bold, authoritative and imaginative. He and his band are consummately able to bring his vision to life. The introduction, with its serene use of woodwinds, supported by the more brilliant tones of the brass section on “Prelude,” is the perfect entre to the suite.  The probing “Compelled” carries the music forward, featuring Holober’s gentle and cadenced piano-his deft arrangements drift sections of spectacular sound into and out of the music with ebbs and flows of his music. Steve Cardenas, a superb guitarist, adds a modern, textural but lyrical solo that floats over the musical atmosphere created.  “Four Haiku” is a short piece that utilizes brilliant sectional harmonies creating a feel of majesty and reverence.   “Interlude” is our chance to hear solo pianist Holober weave a beautiful lyrical melody that is moving and just simply gorgeous.

Holober opening the piece with an exploring solo that morphs into a rhythmically driving pulse led by Herbert and Ferber.  The music escalates its sense of urgency with each bar, the brass and woodwinds melting into a unified wall of multi-timbered sounds. Soloists like altoist Jon Gordon and tenor saxophonist Adam Kolker bring persuasive individual improvisational voices into the forefront. Composer Holober fearlessly adds elements of fusion and Brazilian rhythms into the song, increasing the pace on his tubular sounding Fender Rhodes. This band responds to the adventure with true excellence and marvelous sectional precision.  The eighteen minute song ends with some soaring ethereal guitar by Cardenas and explosively roiling drums by Ferber, as this incendiary band brings the music to new heights at the coda. This is a modern big band at its best.

This two disc set closes with two takes of Jobim’s romantic “Carminhos Cruzados” which Holober has re-imagined for his band and for trumpeter Marvin Stamm. The lilting music is accented by the exquisite tone of Stamm’s gorgeous flugelhorn. You can’t help but be drawn in by the motion this music instills in your body. It’s like listening to a love song that caresses you with Stamm’s horn and is accentuated by Holober’s potently orchestrated band.

Here is a link to one of the new album's songs.

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