The Star Chamber
The Star Chamber
Los Angeles, CA
The Star Chamber is a wickedly weird and wonderful record. It could be the soundtrack for some acid stained Truffaut film of a Philip Marlowe story. It could be the lost soundtrack for a noir film as envisioned by a collaboration of Mingus and Monk. We’ll leave the comparisons in your hands. The Industrial Jazz Group is a new-fangled amalgamation of 50s, 60s and 70s acoustic jazz (bebop, hard bop, cool jazz, free jazz, modal jazz, third stream, etc.) with the kind of sounds, effects and compositional approaches often associated with the avant garde, filtered through a sometimes absurd sense of humor and a love for melody. The group's music reveals the influence of Monk, Charles Mingus, Frank Zappa, George Russell, Raymond Scott, Neal Hefti, Elmo Hope, Bob Graettinger, Jimmy Giuffre, Bernard Herrmann, Alex North, Ornette Coleman, Kurt Weill, Duke Ellington, Olivier Messiaen, Henry Mancini, Gil Evans, Henry Threadgill, Edgar Varese, and just a touch of the soundtrack from Mannix. This is the third release for Andrew Durkin and the Industrial Jazz Group and his second on Innova (the first is NPR favorite "City of Angles")
The group name is only misleading if it leaves you expecting full-on metallurgical ugliness instead of machine-tooled modern jazz compositions of exquisite precision and strong aesthetic appeal. Outstanding soloists- saxophonist Beth Schenck and trumpeter Phil Rodriguez- and a crisp, punchy ensemble sound anchored on bassist Aaron Cohen and drummer Aaron Mclendon.
By Brian Morton
DOWNTOWN MUSIC GALLERY
This is the fourth release (2nd for Innova) from this incredibly cool progressive/chamber/jazz unit from California, I believe... All horns and rhythm team with no guitar! Andrew runs a tight ship and writes layers of intricate lines for his impressive six person horn team, giving each player a chance to solo over the intricate, interlocking parts. In some ways this is similar to Zappa's 'Grand Wazoo', but without the guitar or quick-changing complexities, yet still retaining with that wacky humor which is never forced. The strong point here is Andrew's rich writing for those layers of contrapuntal horns, at times it is only flute, sax and clarinet that we hear, used just right with equally strong harmonies for the trumpets and trombone. What is interesting is that this music is really in between categories, although it does use elements of modern jazz, chamber music and other quirky elements too difficult to pigeonhole.
By Bruce Gallanter
The Industrial Jazz Group continues to fight the odds on maintaining a large band, allowing resident composer Andrew Durkin a vehicle for his imaginative flights. Drawing on an eclectic core of influences including Mingus, Zappa, Messiaen, and Giuffre, Durkin writes head-snapping charts unafraid to make bold statements and easy jokes. The Group’s all-star lineup, including Beth Schenk, Kris Tiner, Cory Wright, and Aaron Cohen, gives an enthusiastic, well-rehearsed performance, bringing Durkin’s exotic fantasies to life. The title track charges forward with cascading fanfares led by Durkin's pounding piano. The ensemble plays through variations on the theme until a time and atmosphere change conjures a straightahead groove with a quartet led by a hot blue trumpet. A brief fugue interlude leads them back to the theme and out. A bright, oddly timed amusement, “A Thousand Times No” reels and careens, growing teeth and ending with Aaron McClendon’s four-handed drum solo. A rubbery figure bounces around the horns to open “Drippy.” Sweet sax arrangements over a ska beat follow, and then the ensemble blows open. Cohen explores the bass implications, leading to a sultry tenor solo that Wright takes from comfy warm to nail gun. “Gross Fugue” opens with Beth Schenk and Evan Fronos setting flutes on baroque and beyond, the ensemble quickly joining for a punchier, brassier take. After a loose improvisational interlude, the mood changes to a languid Spanish theme with Gorrell Smith on trombone. “Little Owen” sneaks in on sly alto sax, Cohen and McClendon roiling. A blue sax arrangement augments improvising brass. After some oddly swinging transitions, the company arrives in New Orleans. The alto continues to lead until Wright takes over on tenor. A pretty flute and piano duet opens “Schwarzkopf Takes the 'C' For Flagstad.” An Ellingtonian insistence grips the group, released by a slash-and-burn Tiner solo. A torrid Eastern interlude dissolves into flutes and duck calls. A heaving groove backs more virtuoso trumpet, and a hopeful arrangement caps it. “Mamas, Don’t let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboy-Presidents” ends the session with a breezy blow fest. The tempo slows to reveal stately, towering horns dissolving into a trio of trumpet, alto, and piano. Durkin’s piano grows into a dominant old west saloon mode, with Smith brawling on trombone. The piece ends with a portentous minor segment. Star Chamber finds the Industrial Jazz Group energetically spreading raucous, infectious fun; this recorded performance effectively captures some of the color of their live shows.
By Rex Butters