Between the standard small jazz ensembles of quartets, quintets and sextets and the powerhouse big bands is a world of ensembles with eight, nine, ten or eleven players. Famously, The 1949 Birth of the Cool sessions were from a nonet assembled by Miles Davis, with arrangements by Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans and John Lewis. Bands of this size are a nimble playground for creative arrangers. Little Big Bands in this hour of Jazz at 100 Today!
Cory Weeds and Dave Holland
On AllAboutJazz, Michael Bailey wrote, “Exploration of little big bands is nothing new if one considers Miles Davis’ nonet recordings … [or] Art Pepper’s [1959 release] Art Pepper + Eleven: Modern Jazz Classics … In all of these cases, the little big bands were made to sound larger through informed arrangements. [altoist Cory] Weeds employs the talents of conductor Jill Townsend and Bill Coon on [the disc] Explosion and the results are more than acceptable… Coon’s arrangement of Hank Mobley’s East of the Village provides the piece with an urban, slightly Latin flavor that softens the hard bop edges. Weeds solos with ease, ideas coming easily.”
As John Kelman writes, The Dave Holland Quintet is a celebrated unit , “… the inherent chemistry of his quintet—powerhouse saxophonist Chris Potter, ever-inventive trombonist Robin Eubanks, harmonically modernistic vibraphonist Steve Nelson and potent drummer Nate Smith—remains something special … As a happy medium between the smaller, lither quintet and its more expansive big band cousin, the Dave Holland Octet has toured occasionally over the past several years, making a formal release long overdue…. [The disc] Pathways [has] a set list culled largely from the past, but with updated arrangements that take advantage of both the ensemble firepower and solo acumen of additional members Antonio Hart (alto saxophone), Alex Sipiagin (trumpet) and Gary Smulyan (baritone sax)—all members of the Dave Holland Big Band and a larger musical family to which the veteran bassist has been consistently loyal over the past decade. [Holland’s composition] Blue Jean, originally a Latin ballad on his  World Trio ….date … is still a minor-keyed blues ballad, but Holland’s lush, Gil Evans-like horn arrangement creates an expansive context for a Smulyan’s soulful baritone solo, as he liberally quotes the classic The Shadow of Your Smile before passing the baton to Sipiagin, whose flugelhorn solo is a combination of serpentine virtuosity and deeply rooted lyricism.”
East of the Village. Cory Weeds Little Big Band
(Joe Magnarelli-tp, Chris Davis-tp, Steve Davis-tb, Rod Murray-tb, PJ Perry-as, Cory Weeds-ts, Steve Kaldestad-ts, Gary Smulyan-bs, Chris Gestrin-p, Paul Rushka-b, Jesse Cahil-d). From Explosion. Cellar Live. 2018.
Blue Jean. Dave Holland Octet
(Alex “Sasha” Sipiagin-tp/flh, Robin Eubanks-tb, Antonio Hart-as/fl, Chris Potter-ts/ss, Gary Smulyan-bs, Steve Nelson-vib/mar, Dave Holland-b, Nate Smith-d). From Pathways. Dare2 Records. 2010.
Todd Marcus, Jamie Baum and Steve Coleman
Of Todd Marcus’s disc Blues for Tahrir, Angelo Leonardi writes, “Wavy oriental melodies are enriched by sumptuous (and sometimes solemn) orchestrations until they melt into passionate solos by Greg Tardy on tenor, Alan Ferber on trombone, Alex Norris on trumpet or by Marcus himself on bass clarinet. Everything unfolds with inventiveness and a taste for surprises, while adhering to the styles of the orchestral modern mainstream. The union between jazz and oriental melodies is propitiated by modal harmonic structures (on which the shadow of John Coltrane stands out)… The disc ends with Bousa, [a] theme with oriental connotations that are diluted in the jazz interventions of the leader and pianist Xavier Davis.
“While Jamie Baum’s skill as a flutist is commendable (she was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 2015), her ability to skillfully weave together sounds from almost a dozen instruments as well as a few occasional vocalists is most impressive. Of course, it helps that she has surrounded herself once again with top-tier talent, giving her the ability to write specifically to her band member’s strengths… [S]he gives the musicians freedom to explore within the songs they’ve developed. This has the effect of giving the album’s songs character as well as structure… standouts include Joyful Lament, wherein Brad Shepik showcases his talent as a guitarist, ending the song with a 2 ½ minute solo serving as a culmination to the relentless, driving melody established before it.”
Of the Steve Coleman Octet’s outing Morphogenesis, Troy Dostert wrote, “…suspend expectations of easily-recognized themes: Coleman’s approach instead involves the seemingly endless interweaving of phrases, sometimes played in unison and sometimes in counterpoint, using the entire palette of his ensemble. Don’t count on a lot of extravagant soloing either, as Coleman is much more interested in drawing out the different textures and dynamic possibilities these instruments can create while in conversation with each other. It’s the group dynamic as a whole that really takes center stage here, as each piece evolves through the mutual interactions of all the musicians. … worthy of note [is the tune] Pull Counter, where Coleman’s alto hints at Charlie Parker’s legacy through a bebop-flavored track that even adds an element of swing, thanks in part to Chudzik’s walking bass line and pianist Matt Mitchell’s Monk-like jabs.”
Bouse. Todd Marcus Jazz Orchestra
Alex Norris-tp, Alan Ferber-tb, Russell Kirk-as, Gregory Tardy-ts, Brent Birkhead-as/fl, Todd Marcus-bcl/per, Xavier Davis-p, Jeff Reed -b, Eric Kennedy-d, Jon Seligman-per). From Blues for Tahrir. Hipnotic Records. 2014.
Joyful Lament. Jamie Baum Nonet
(Amir ElSaffar-tp, Chris Komer-frh, Sam Sadigursky-as/bcl, Jamie Baum-fl/afl, John Escreet-p, Brad Shepik-g, Zack Lober-b, Jeff Hirshfield-d, Navin Chettri-tanpura). From Bridges. Sunnyside Communications. 2018.
Pull Counter. Steve Coleman Octet
(Jonathan Finlayson-tp, Steve Coleman-as, Maria Grand-ts, Rane Moore-cl, Matt Mitchell-p, Kristin Lee-vln, Greg Chudzik-b, Jen Shyu-voc). From Morphogenesis. Pi Recordings. 2017.
Charlie Haden and Anat Cohen
Every decade or so, bassist/bandleader Charlie Haden would convene a Little Big Band under the name of Liberation Music Orchestra to address injustice through music. His final such effort titled Time/Life:Songs For The Whales And Other Beings, released in 2016, began with arrangements by Carla Bley performed by the eleven-piece band in 2011 at Jazz Middleheim Festival in Belgium. The project was completed by Bley after Haden’s passing in 2014. Bley works with a seven-piece horn section of Michael Rodriguez and Seneca Black on trumpet, Vincent Chancey on French horn, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Joseph Daley on tuba, and Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby on tenor.
In 2019, clarinetist Anat Cohen reconvened her celebrated Tentet, with musical director Oded Lev-Ari, to record Triple Helix. On JazzTimes, Jim MacNie writes, “Few musical ploys are as riveting as intricacy, especially when the ensemble at hand is sizable. But without a wealth of eloquence in play, elaboration can be its own worst enemy, a knot of tangles void of emotion. Anat Cohen knows this, and though her Tentet’s second album boasts some truly formidable crossweaves, there’s seldom a moment when poise doesn’t carry the day. Much of the grace that guides these victories has to do with what the leader has deemed the group’s “flexible” nature. As with the Gil Evans-led ensemble on Sketches of Spain or Ellington’s troupe on A Tone Parallel to Harlem, listeners never hear the mechanics of the work at hand, just the resultant art floating through the air. This applies to all the tunes—from Astor Piazzolla’s Milonga del Angel to Stan Kenton’s Lonesome Train…”
Blue In Green. Charlie Haden & Liberation Music Orchestra
(Michael Rodriguez-tp, Seneca Black-tp, Vincent Chancey-frh, Curtis Fowlkes-tb, Joseph Daley-tu, Chris Cheek-ts, Tony Malaby-ts, Carla Bley-p, Steve Cardenas-g, Charlie Haden-b, Matt Wilson-d). From Time/Life:Songs For The Whales And Other Beings. Impulse. 2016
Milonga Del Angel. Anat Cohen Tentet
(Nadje Noordhuis-tp/flh, Nick Finzer-tb, Anat Cohen-cl, Owen Broder-bs, Vitor Goncalves-p/acc, James Shipp-vib/per, Sheryl Bailey-g, Christopher Hoffman-cel, Tal Mashiach-b, Anthony Pinciotti-d). From Triple Helix. 2019.
Bailey, C. Michael. (2018, July 9). AllAboutJazz. Cory Weeds Little Big Band: Explosion. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/explosion-cory-weeds-cellar-live-review-by-c-michael-bailey.php
Kelman, John. (2010, March 16). AllAboutJazz. Dave Holland Octet: Dave Holland Octet: Pathways. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/dave-holland-octet-pathways-by-john-kelman.php
Leonardi, Angelo. (2015, September 14). AllAboutJazz. Todd Marcus Jazz Orchestra: Blues For Tahrir. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/blues-for-tahrir-todd-marcus-jazz-orchestra-hipnotic-records-review-by-angelo-leonardi.php
Hoetjes, Peter J. (2018, December 24). AllAboutJazz. The Jamie Baum Septet: Bridges. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/bridges-jamie-baum-sunnyside-records-review-by-peter-hoetjes.php
Dostert, Troy. (2017, June 12). AllAboutJazz. Steve Coleman’s Natal Eclipse: Morphogenesis. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/morphogenesis-review-by-troy-dostert.php
Patterson, Ian. (2017, May 17). AllAboutJazz. Charlie Haden / Liberation Music Orchestra: Time/Life:Songs For The Whales And Other Beings. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/time-life-songs-for-whales-and-other-beings-charlie-haden-liberation-music-orchestra-impulse-review-by-ian-patterson.php
MacNie, Jim. (2019, July 26). JazzTimes. Anat Cohen Tentet: Triple Helix (Anzic). https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/anat-cohen-tentet-triple-helix-anzic/
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