Composer and bandleader Nathan Parker Smith has been leading his 18-piece Large Ensemble since 2009. Their debut CD, Not Dark Yet, came out last month on the Brooklyn Jazz Underground label, and it rocks. (Buy it from Amazon.) The group includes five woodwinds players (Alden Banta, Justin Flynn, Kevin Russell, Chris Shade, and Michael Thomas), four trumpeters (Josh Deutsch, Augie Haas, Matt Holman, and David Smith), four trombonists (Nick Finzer, Matthew McDonald, James Rogers and JC Sanford) and a rhythm section composed of Landon Knoblock on Fender Rhodes, Kenji Shinagawa on electric guitar, Russ Flynn on bass, and Jared Schonig on drums.
When talking about a big band composed of players under 35, that’s not trying to get people dancing at a wedding somewhere, it’s easy to make a comparison with Darcy James Argue‘s Secret Society the starting point. And there are some commonalities between the two ensembles—a fondness for distorted rock guitar, a heavy-footed drummer whose style recalls John Bonham more than Jo Jones—but where Argue’s group abandoned the sprawling, ambitiously description-resistant music of their debut in favor of old-timey ethnic pastiche on the recent Brooklyn Babylon, Smith and crew are all about projecting power. Shinagawa’s guitar work is fascinating, at times recalling Caspar Brötzmann in the way carefully sculpted bursts of noise ping and scrape at the edges of the music, even as the riffs display a sizable debt to metal. On several of the more jackhammering pieces, the combination of Rhodes and guitar create a staccato roar reminiscent of the Norwegian jazz-thrash band Shining. And yet, Knoblock can just as easily settle into a mellow psychedelic zone that nods to Herbie Hancock‘s work in the late ’60s and early ’70s. And when the band gets really quiet (as on “Fog Over East”), it’s even possible to be reminded of larger ensembles led by Bill Dixon or Anthony Braxton.
One of Not Dark Yet‘s other virtues is its concision: The longest of its 11 tracks runs just 5:05, and the whole thing comes in under 37 minutes. It’s a concentrated, potent dose of thundering jazz-metal power, more orchestral than big-band, but thrilling no matter how you categorize it.
Stream four tracks from the album: