Tobias Hoffmann Jazz Orchestra: Conspiracy

Vienna-based big band favours declamatory, contrapuntal, even 12-tone patterns over rhythm section motoring but remains muscular

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Big bands playing the same tunes over and over while on the road have given way to the relatively static jazz orchestra, seen as a fruitful medium for composers whose deference to the older tradition may be fleeting. For sure, the life of music written for them, in line with contemporary music in other genres, is often equally transient. Maybe this is why so much work is put into original projects, such as the one enshrined on this album by the German saxophonist and composer Tobias Hoffmann.

One of the losses of the touring bands, which were synonymous with dancing, is the prominence of the rhythm section. Hoffmann’s 18-piece orchestra has one, but his original charts are propelled as much by declamatory and contrapuntal patterns as they might be by background motor energy. This may account for why the short second track, Elegy, is performed by a choir of horns without rhythm section and why that same section is heard to advantage only when the oratorical wind sections fall silent or reduce in volume.

Hoffmann’s previous claim to fame was victory by his nine-piece band’s album Retrospective in the 2019 Made in New York jazz competition. Conspiracy, put together despite Covid lockdown, is much more ambitious: a rigorous compositional exercise full of evidence of how much can still be achieved with familiar materials. Trailblazers is the closest homage to his forebears, Awakening evokes some brooding personal angst, Relentless cleverly shoes a 12-note row’s atonality into a tonal mould, and the lively Imposter Syndrome offers a reflection of the energy Hoffmann put into consideration of self-doubt.

Everywhere the writing is detailed, often chromatic, and supportive of the soloists, who appear on all tracks bar Elegy. This is a talented band playing challenging music by a composer as strong on big-band muscularity as he is quietly thoughtful on the more fragile voicings that emerge when the hard-blowers catch their breath.

Discography
Conspiracy; Elegy; December Song; Awakening; Relentless; Trailblazers; Renegade; Imposter Syndrome; Who Knows (Intro); Who Knows (70.47)
Hoffmann (cond, arr); Patrick Dunst (as, ss, f); Andy Schofield (as, f, cl); Robert Unterköfler (ts, ss, cl); Martin Harms (ts, cl); Jonas Brinckmann (bar, bcl); Dominic Pessl, Bernhard Nolf, Felix Meyer,Simon Plötzeneder, Jakob Helling (t); Kasperi Sarikoski, Daniel Holtzleitner (tb); Robert Bachner (tb, eu); Johannes Oppel (btb, tu); Vikka Wahl (g); Philipp Nykrin (p, syn); Ivar Roban Krizic (b, elb); Reinhold Schmölzer (d, elec). Vienna, 28-31 August 2021.
Mons Records MR874757