Felipe Salles is Brazilian but has worked in America for over 20 years. He’s released several previous CDs by smaller groups but this is his first by a large band. Memories of Brazilian lullabies provide the simple motifs that begin each of the first five tracks and they’re developed through the tradition of texturally sophisticated writing for jazz big bands which was pioneered by Ellington, continued by Gil Evans amongst others and is sustained by Salles in the present recording.
Though the average length of the five lullabies (around 10 minutes) relates them to Ellington’s “Harlem” the sounds of the ensemble are more reminiscent of Gil Evans. However, unlike Evans, Salles gives the ensembles dominance with soloists confined to short, mostly unexceptional interventions. (The exception is Burchfield’s shapely and moving baritone contribution to “Lullaby 4”.) There’s also a restlessness in the writing with a surfeit of contrasts as if Salles expects the listener to lose interest if a mood or rhythm is sustained for more than a minute or so.
I should also point out that much of the music in these “lullabies” is far from soothing (as you can hear by seeking out the extracts on YouTube), perhaps because of the “dark, underlying qualities” which Salles refers to in his notes without further elucidation. He’s mainly active as conductor, which was necessary for the out-of-tempo sections where jazz is temporarily in abeyance. However there’s no denying the skill of his orchestration.
I much preferred the three “tango-inspired pieces” which take up the last 25 minutes of the CD. Here we have some pleasing tenor from Caudill, excellent muted trombone from Yennior and a slightly strained soprano solo from Salles himself. The rhythms are sustained more and there’s a willingness to linger and build rather than switch the emphasis. The interpretation of the scores is excellent overall and if interested you should check the segment on YouTube.
(1) Lullaby 1; Lullaby 2; Lullaby 3; Lullaby 4; Lullaby 5; Odd Tango; Astor Square; (2) Carla’s Tango (73.29)
(1) Jeff Holmes, Yuta Yamaguchi, Eric Smith, Doug Olsen (t, flh); Joel Yennior, Clayton De Walt, Dan Hendrix, Randy Pingrey, Angel Subero (tb); Richard Garcia, Jonathan Ball (ss, as, f); Mike Caudill (ss, ts, cl); Jacob Shulman (ts, cl); Tyler Burchfield (bar, cl); Ryan Fedak (vb); Nando Michelin (p); Kevin Grudecki (g); Keala Kaumeheiwa (b); Bertram Lehmann (d). Acton, Massachusetts, 28 & 29 October 2017. (2) add Salles (ss).