Featuring the poetry of the late Paula Tatarunis set to Katz's music and performed by OddSong with vocalist Rebecca Shrimpton; saxophonists Phil Scarff, Melanie Howell Brooks, Jim Hobbs and Rick Stone; marimba player Vessela Stoyanova; violinist Helen Sherrah-Davies; JCA Winds, and the JCA Orchestra with special guest Oliver Lake.
"Katz has synthesized a wide range of influences including modern classical, folk/blues traditions, and the entire jazz legacy into a mature and personal compositional style." Ø Boston Phoenix
With Jailhouse Doc with Holes in Her Socks, jazz composer Darrell Katz introduces his latest ensemble, OddSong, an unusual and perfectly balanced group featuring four saxophones, violin, vibraphone/marimba, and voice. Listeners familiar with Katz's work with the Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra (JCA Orchestra) will recognize many of the compositions. But Katz, who has consistently striven to push himself as a composer, has reimagined them for the more intimate setting of OddSong. Katz, a strikingly original compositional voice for more than 30 years, once again finds new orchestral colors, new moments of beauty, and new ways to inspire the improvisers in his band to great heights.
Many of the album's new arrangements, as well as five new compositions, are settings of the poetry of the late poet Paula Tatarunis, whose words have inspired some of Katz's best work, and her spirit permeates the album. She provided the name of the ensemble in a poem in which she addressed Katz, her husband, as "Oddsong." And she was very much on the mind of everyone in the studio as the album was recorded while she was in critical condition in the hospital. "This album was not originally conceived as an homage to Paula; I just wanted to present the new group," Katz says. "But it became an unintended tribute to her when she tragically died four months later. She will always be part of my life, and in my heart forever."
From the beginning of the project, Katz was primarily interested in exploring the sonic potential of his new ensemble. "One of the challenges of a group like this is to find a way to keep the momentum going without drums and bass," Katz says. "Since I've composed for and recorded with the JCA Sax Quartet (I'm Me and You're Not, 1998), I already had some ideas. The additional instruments gave me more voices, colors, and textures to work with. And I knew they would blend really well."
Indeed, Katz consistently finds new ways to drive the music. There's Melanie Howell Brooks's thundering baritone sax line that both anchors and drives the title track. The steady pulse of Vessela Stoyanova's marimba provides a smoothly rolling base for the lurching, zig-zag saxophones on "Tell Time," pitting regular and irregular rhythms against each other. And on "Red Blue" Katz's riffs and supporting motifs generate swinging forward motion.
Without drums, Katz is also free to explore subtle timbres and dynamics and he often breaks the ensemble down into smaller subgroupings to keep the sound varied. The result is a shifting sonic tapestry on "Lemmings" as duo and trio combinations of instruments take turns accompanying Shrimpton. On "Squirrel" and "Gone Now," instrumental commentary combining classical, jazz, and blues inflections can be dark and dense or bright and airy, comical or serious.
Katz excels at composing music that mirrors the tone of the words and in wedding poetic cadences to musical ones. The near indivisibility of words and music on "Like a Wind," from the novel, Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson, and Tatarunis's darkly humorous "Lemmings" are good examples. Once again, as she has on many previous JCA Orchestra albums, vocalist Rebecca Shrimpton brings the words to glorious life with her crystalline voice and sensitive attention to each poem's meaning.
Katz is also a composer dedicated to unleashing improvisers to do their thing. "Nothing pleases me more then to let creative musicians loose on a pathway that I've been able to open for them," he says. Highlights include a scorching solo by Jim Hobbs and a beautiful alto duet between Phil Scarff and Rick Stone on "Jailhouse Doc with Holes in her Socks," Scarff's elegant soprano solo on Sherrah-Davies's arrangement of Astor Piazzolla's "LLAP Libertango," and a rollicking solo by special guest Oliver Lake on a live performance of "The Red Blues/Red Blue" with the JCA Orchestra. Violinist Helen Sherrah-Davies projects great sadness and dignity during her solo on "Libertango." There are several passages of collective improvisation throughout the album, most notably the completely improvised "Prayer," which opens the disc.
The Boston Phoenix called musician-composer-bandleader-educator Darrell Katz "one of Boston's most ambitious and provocative jazz composers." The paper could just as easily have said one of the entire jazz world's most ambitious and provocative composers. His work with the JCA Orchestra, as documented on 10 previous CDs, shows a composer of uncommon range and broad vision, able to weave influences from every musical sphere into his own unique voice. His 2015 release, Why Do You Ride?, includes "Wheelworks," a setting of quotations that Albert Einstein may or may not have said. In a 4-star DownBeat review, Ken Micallef called it, "rich, swinging and often surprising Š Why Do You Ride? balances modern music with timeless intellectual pursuits (and humor)." Jazz de Gama described it as "pure and mad Š Borges-like and sublime Š a breathtaking eight-part invention that delights as much as it mystifies and dazzles at the same time."
As director of the Jazz Composers Alliance (JCA), an organization he helped found in 1985, Katz has been a strong proponent of artist self-empowerment, providing a vehicle for forward-thinking composers to hear their works realized by some of Boston's best musician-improvisers. The artist-run Julius Hemphill Composition Awards (1991-2001), which in its final year received 240 compositions from 28 countries, provided a means of international community building and a way for peers to acknowledge the work of their fellow composers. He has received a Massachusetts Artist Fellowship in composition, three Massachusetts Artist Fellowship finalist awards, a Jazz Fellowship Grant from the NEA, and grants from Meet the Composer, The Aaron Copland Fund, The New England Foundation For The Arts, the Artists Foundation, the National Association of Jazz Educators and three Readers Digest/ Margaret Jory copying grants, as well as a Faculty Fellowship from Berklee College of Music, where he currently teaches.
Jailhouse Doc with Holes in Her Socks is another milestone in the three-decade journey of growth and discovery in the music of composer Darrell Katz.