Less than a year after the release of its live recording The Ever Fonky Lowdown, members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchesta are set to return this week with a new socio-politically charged recording in the form of The Democracy! Suite. This time presented by a smaller collection of musicians – dubbed the Jazz at Lincoln Center Septet – the recording is no less entertaining and engaging than its predecessor. That is due in part to the recording’s featured arrangements. This will be discussed shortly. The sequencing thereof adds its own touch to the album’s presentation. This element will be discussed a little later. The record’s production puts the final touch to its presentation and will also be addressed later. All three items noted here are important in their own way to the whole of The Democracy! Suite. All things considered, they make the album another enjoyable offering from the members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Septet with Wynton Marsalis’ latest recording The Democracy! Suite is another welcome new offering from the members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Additionally, it is a welcome follow-up to its predecessor, The Ever Fonky Lowdown. That is proven in part through the eight total arrangements that form the record’s body. Much as was the case with the arrangements featured in The Ever Fonky Lowdown, the arrangements featured in this record are meant to reflect the socio-politically charged themes of the songs. One of the most notable of this recording’s entries comes early in its 44-minute run in the form of ‘Ballot Box Bounce.’ The song’s upbeat arrangement is a great musical representation of the energy that flowed through Americans this year as they headed to the polls and even voted early by absentee ballot. The energy is so light. It conjures thoughts of works crafted by Vince Guaraldi for the beloved Peanuts TV specials, what with its light, bouncy piano line, flute, muted trumpet and brushes on the snare. Considering the excitement that people seem to have had in being interviewed about taking part in the electoral process this year, the high but controlled positive energy exuded by the group here does well to translate that energy to this format.
‘Deeper Than Dreams’ is another standout addition to JLCS with Wynton Marsalis’ latest recording. To what the song’s title is referring is anyone’s guess. However, knowing that this record in whole is meant to reflect the thoughts and feelings that we have all dealt with over the past four years, one has to assume with relative certainty that it is meant to reflect the sadness that we have so often felt through everything. To that end, the more reserved, bluesy sense exuded in this composition is a wonderful reflection of those emotions and thoughts. From dealing with the latest issues brought on by COVID-19, to just the depression of hearing the Republican rhetoric on a daily basis (especially from the soon to be former President), to so much more, the music here reflects so well Americans’ feelings. The controlled dynamics from the saxophone and the percussion and the subtle backing of the trumpet creates such rich emotion. The picture that the group paints with this song is one of people dreaming beyond dreaming about times being better. It is such a powerful piece in that richness.
That’s When All Shall See’ is a well-placed addition to JLCS’ new recording. The almost sarcastic tone in the song’s upbeat arrangement, complete with tambourine and horns, infers a certain sense of overcoming all the negativity that has flooded this nation (and world) since 2016. Considering the song’s title, “That’s When All Shall See,” it’s as if this song is echoing people saying, the day will come when people will finally see the light and the reality of things, and as a result, things will finally change. Simply put, being the recording’s closer, it leaves listeners with a sense of hope. Considering that we as a nation are finally seeing the end of the Trump administration and hopefully all of the damage that it has caused, it would seem that the noted time in which people would see is in fact here. To that end, that the album closes with this song and that the album drops only days before Biden and Harris are elected, it is just one more example of how this recording’s arrangements make for so much enjoyment in this presentation. When it is considered with the rest of the recording’s arrangements, that whole forms a strong foundation for this recording. That foundation is just one level of what makes the recording work as well as it does. The sequencing of the record’s featured arrangements adds even more to that appeal.
The Democracy! Suite starts out in upbeat fashion in ‘Be Present.’ The energy in that song would seem to echo the sense of urgency in the calls to action last year to stand up to everything that the Trump administration (and GOP) had put against America. From there, the record’s energy pulls back slightly in ‘Sloganize, Patronize, Realize, Revolutionize (Black Lives Matters).’ The song’s title is self-explanatory, and the sense of controlled frustration does well to echo what the African-American community must have felt building up to last year’s protests. It makes for a good contrast to the record’s opener, in terms of energy and an equally interesting contrast to the energy in ‘Ballot Box Bounce,’ the album’s next song. From there, the energy gradually pulls back even more over the course of the next two songs before picking up again in ‘Out Amongst The People (for J Bat).’ ‘It Come ‘Round ‘Gin’ pulls the record’s energy back again, but only partially. The song does pick up again as it progresses through its nearly six-minute run time. That energy carries on through to the album’s closer, leaving listeners feeling very good. Looking back through the album in terms of its sequencing, it is clear that the sequencing balances the record’s energy expertly from start to end. The energy rises and falls just enough at all of the right points throughout the album, ensuring that together with the songs themselves, listeners have even more to appreciate here. It is just one more aspect of the record that audiences will appreciate. The production that went into the record rounds out its most important elements.
Whether the song is upbeat and energetic or more reserved and slow, each work featured in this record has a lot going on. Between the horns, the percussion and even at times woodwinds, there is a lot going on in each song. A slower song, such as ‘Deeper Than Dreams’ required the utmost attention because of how simple the song is. Those behind the boards had to fully control the dynamics, so as to bring out the most emotion. The work put in there paid off, too. On the other end of the spectrum is a song, such as ‘Ballot Box Bounce.’ This light, upbeat work involves a lot of moving parts. There is a piano line. There is a flute line. There are horns. There is a light percussion line. That means that a different attention had to be paid to balancing the instrumentation and even the dynamics. Again the production paid off, as it accomplished the noted goals. Between these two songs and the production that went into the rest of the record, the result is a record that sounds so good from beginning to end. All of the performers get their moment in the light and none of the instruments outplay the others. It creates a positive aesthetic that listeners will enjoy just as much as the songs themselves and their sequencing. When all three items are considered together, the result is a record that JLCO’s fans will appreciate just as much as any jazz fan in general.
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Septet with Wynton Marsalis’ new recording The Democracy! Suite is a positive new outing for the smaller unit of musicians from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Its featured arrangements do so well to illustrate the thoughts and emotions evoked by the song’s titles. The sequencing of the noted arrangements does its own share to keep listeners engaged and entertained. That is because the sequencing ensures the energy in the arrangements is balanced throughout. It rises and falls at all of the right moments and for the right amount of time. The production that went into the record’s creation rounds out its most important elements. It ensures that the unit in whole is balanced in its performance, with no one performer overpowering the others at any point and the emotions in the songs well-translated. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the recording. All things considered, they make the recording in whole the year’s first great live CD. The Demoracy! Suite is scheduled for release Friday through Blue Engine Records.
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