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★★★★★

Kurt Rosenwinkel & OJM

Our Secret World

Wommusic

2010

Meet OJH, the Orquestra de Jazz de Matosinhos, and the latest sonic shift for renowned guitarist and Berklee alum Kurt Rosenwinkel. The last time I wrote about Rosenwinkel I was writing about his 2009 classics album Reflections — itself a somewhat unusual shift for an artist who’s more (in my mind at least) associated with the typical small ensemble jazz setup. Here he’s playing his own stuff, but arranged for big band by band leader Pedro Guedes and pianist Carlos Azevedo.

It’s a risky move, but it does open up some opportunities. Frankly, I usually avoid big band groups, and excessive through-composition and over-arranging leaves a piece feelings scripted and square. It’s hard to get cohesion between that many people, and when you’re just a third trombone, it’s a whole lot easier to phone in a performance than when your musical voice is more exposed, as with a smaller combo. The flip side is of course that the composer gets a much bigger sound palette the number of interactions that can be made increases exponentially, and this can be a real boon to the sound. It’s the office of the arranger to bring this to fruition. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. When they do, the music is polished yet intricate, complicated yet coherent. When they don’t, it sounds square.

OJM does fall in the better end of that spectrum, and in general I was happy with both the latest CD by the collaboration and by their live performance at the BPC. While Guedes, Azevedo err occasionally on the side of traditionalism, which can sound square, their enthusiasm for the music specifically that of Rosenwinkel’s evident. In the live performance particularly, the band really began to open up as the concert went on, sounding a tad square at first but ending with such a triumphant finish that I forgave that easily. Rosenwinkel warmed up too, and by show’s end his characteristic fluidity was in full form.

In general I would have liked to see more openness in the compositions, which don’t leave as much space for open improvisation as Rosenwinkel’s original works, and I suspect that his typical fans might feel similarly. That said, there is exciting exploration being done here if you’re willing to listen for it. Guedes and Azevedo are occasionally spot on in their arrangements, and that is an art form in itself.

In general, I recommend the album and the group both to fans of the big band and to anyone who’d like to see what it can do. If the OJM continues their collaborations (which it seems likely)I’m very excited to see what they come up with, and how they learn to exploit the large group setup.