As expected, this was a really good time. I hadn't realized this, but Andrew D'Angelo has been writing big band music for a long time now -- since he was a teenager back in Seattle, in fact, where he first started playing with Jim Black and Chris Speed. Both D'Angelo and Curtis Hasselbring did stints in Boston's Either/Orchestra before moving to NYC, but this is the first time they have joined forces, co-leading this brand-new 13-piece outfit. Obviously, D'Angelo and Black are thick as thieves, their most notable collaboration being Human Feel. But by Andrew's count, over half the band are people he's never had the opportunity to work with before.
The music was a lot more freewheeling and improv-oriented than the stuff I write for Secret Society, but even though the vibe was pretty wild (and very, very loud), the compositions were deceptively complex -- there was a lot of ink on the parts, and some tricksy time-shifts for the band to negotiate. Open-ended intros would lead into a barrage of thorny clusters, raggedy sing-song whole-band unison themes, or interruptive punctuations. Think of a big-bandized Human Feel -- in fact, a few of D'Angelo's charts were exactly that.
There was ample room for distinctive individual contributions, like trumpter Nate Wooley's unpitched soundsculpting and trombonist Ben Gerstein's air-raid wailing, but the sparks really flew during the duets -- especially when D'Angelo and McHenry went at it together. Curtis Hasselbring's charts tended to be slightly less relentlessly in-your-face than D'Angelo's, but only just -- the group's punk-jazz energy can only be contained for so long, especially with Jim Black behind the hit. A few tunes culminated in full-on go-go beats (sometimes in odd meters), with Black's cymbals crashing like thundersheets.
It's not easy music to pull off, even with such outstanding players, all of whom invested a serious chunk of rehearsal time putting this hit together. Big bands need regular gigs to grow into the music, but that's not always economically viable, especially for (ahem) struggling bandleaders. Last night at Tea Lounge was a hell of a first hit for these guys, not least because you hear so much potential there, some of it as yet untapped. Obviously, a lot of these players have busy schedules of their own (including the co-leaders), but it would be great if D'Angelo and Hasselbring could find a semi-regular home for this group. The world needs more badass kick-down-the-door big bands.
More (grainy and blurry, sorry... it's dark in there, yo) pictures below the fold... there was also some dude videotaping the whole thing, so keep an eye on the YouTube.