James Emery: Transformations (2003)
Something about orchestrated jazz makes it an intellectualized endeavor, and James Emery's Transformations exemplifies this rule as much as Gunther Schuller or any other members of the Third Stream. The guitarist and composer takes advantage of the rich sonic spectrum provided by the 22-member Klangforum Wien orchestra to complement his jazz quartet, represented by the five- movement "Transformations" suite and five subsequent pieces respectively. The foursome comprises Emery alongside saxophonist Tony Coe, flugelhorn player (and Between the Lines frequent flyer) Franz Koglmann, and bassist Peter Herbert (only on the five pieces at the end).
That's a more than competent group which feels very comfortable within this context, especially during open improvisation and extended solos. Regardless, this is not easy listening. You better pay attention.
James Emery invested these compositions with old world arrangements that emphasize harmonic progression with a healthy but measured portion of dissonance. Emery's (acoustic) guitar playing ranges from open support to ecstatic adventure. In cases like "Interlude #1" he showcases his virtuosity, always forward-looking and quite often ballistic. Tony Coe tends toward a feeling of welcome, particularly when he picks up the clarinet, and Franz Koglmann draws his usual warm legato lines.
Depending on your orientation, you'll probably prefer either the full-bodied orchestral portions or the pared-down quartet pieces. My own preference is the latter, where there's a greater sense of the unexpected, embodied by an expanding and contracting approach to time. It feels more spontaneous and personal, though obviously the orchestral composition is an avowedly explicit statement by Emery and as such represents his singular vision.
But regardless of what you bring to the music, there's a wealth of cleverness, lyricism, and inspired improvisation on Transformations. Listen carefully and you'll have a chance to peel apart the many layers that make up this whole. It's certainly no simple matter.
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Track Listing: 1. Movement I - Archai; 2. Movement II - The Flow Below; 3. Interlude #1; 4. Movement III - In a Myth; 5. Interlude #2; 6. Movement IV - Polarities; 7. Interlude #3; 8. Movement V - The Solar Body; 9. Fugitive Items; 10. Down Home Tone Poem; 11. Bird's Nest; 12. Full Circle (pt. 1); 13. Full Circle (pt. 2).
Personnel: Tony Coe (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Franz Koglmann (flugelhorn), James Emery (guitar), Peter Herbert (bass, on 4 Quartets only), Klangforum Wien conducted by Emilio Pomarico.