Concert Review: The Eco-Music Big Band …this is music and activism at its finest

Eco-Music Big BandDate: April 22, 2015
Venue: Joe’s Pub (NY)

Review by Dawoud Kringle/Photos by Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi

Videos approved by Marie Incontrera (Eco-Music Big Band)

The Eco-Music Big Band hit NYC’s Joe’ Pub for a special Earth Day celebration Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015. The concert was titled Blues Planet, My Love and promised an evening of music that celebrates the liberation of our planet, and the liberation of all people. The band premiered works by Albert Marques, Marie Incontrera, Alexis Cuadrado, and also featured works by Fred Ho, Cal Massey, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and others.

The Eco-Music Big Band is led by conductor/composer, and the late Fred Ho’s composition protege Marie Incontrera. The band included bass trombonist David Taylor (Gil Evans, New York Philharmonic), saxophonist Jay Rodriguez (Ornette Coleman, Craig Harris), bass trombonist Earl McIntyre (Mel Lewis, Thad Jones), Zack O’Farrill and Adam O’Farrill (Arturo O’Farrill, Randy Weston).

Eco-Music Big BandEco-Music Big BandThe stage at Joe’s Pub was clearly too small for the sixteen people in the ensemble.

A jazzy 6/8 figure started with strings, horns took over, and then the also saxophone took a solo. Then the cellist took a solo, using some very inventive harmonic ideas. The trumpet followed, playing against the swing and at the same time supporting it before going ‘in’, then ‘out” and back in. The soprano sax went into a Coltrane/Dolphy vibe. The piano took an interesting solo, with all but the bass and drums laying out. Over this pulse a sparse and abstract statement was made. Then a young man named Olmeca began rapping. After his flow, the band started chanting “Things Gotta Change” and they returned to the head.

They continued with a piece called “Action and Reaction.” The piece was a lively, complex, and quite enjoyable. It draws the listener in, and delightedly leads them through an intricate labyrinth of sound. Some astonishing call and response was displayed.

The next song was a surprise: an arrangement of the old Iron Butterfly song “Inna-Gadda-Da- Vida.” Sean Hempill was the singer who had fair rock singer chops. The band’s arrangement was interesting; clearly jazz musicians reinterpreting rock music. It eventually took a Mingus like turn. Seneca Black on trumpet took a very interesting and poetic solo. The violin followed, using a wah pedal to create a Miles Davis like effect. This was followed by a drum solo (and why wouldn’t that happen?). This solo was much more interesting, and shorter than the original. The aforementioned vocalist returned and the song drew to a close.

Another rock arrangement Fred Ho had made before his passing, it was a trombone concerto based on “Iron Man” and “Black Dog.” It featured David Taylor on bass trombone. He started with the most fascinating trombone solo imaginable. The arrangement was interesting; it took strange shifts and turns with recognizable rock riffs morphing into big band jazz textures.Taylor interjected with spoken word; much of which was vague political rhetoric about revolution. But his trombone solos were magnificent.

A piece called “Foggy Conscience” composed by Zack O’Farrill followed. A Led Zeppelin like drum beat supported a startling display of jagged and angular harmonies that coalesced into a lounge/spy movie soundtrack type groove.

Their next piece “You’re Under Arrest” written by Livio Almeida was dedicated to political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz. A spooky piano riff and disjointed drums ushered in ominous harmonies from the horn section. Video of police brutality and tyranny was shown on the video screen while the band played.

A composition by Marie Incontrera called “Seven Generations”  followed. A Spanish sounding trombone melody by David Whitwell, flavored by occasional comments by the others, came forward. Suddenly, a strange 60s type groove started, and morphed into a jazz groove. All the while the horns and strings punctuated the mood. The trombone held dominion throughout. A trombone solo rose up, and the song drew to a close.

Their next offering was s piece called “Shiva” after activist Vandana Shiva (Monsanto’s worst enemy). Olmeca returned and rapped about the activist and eco-activism.

They concluded with a Latin jazz piece. The violin played a mournful melody over piano accompaniment. Suddenly, the piano shifted the tempo and played a complex upbeat figure and the violin responded. A lively and serious Latin Jazz groove took over. Trumpet and sax dueled it out. Other solos followed. The band brought it to a lovely climax.

Eco-Music is a very tight and skilled band. They navigated intricate arrangements with ease, and we’re full of a lot of surprises. This is music and activism at its finest.

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