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REVIEW: John Vanore & Abstract Truth "Culture”

By Critical Jazz.Com
February 5, 2013
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I have to be honest as the cover art alone is worth five stars. John Vanore is a post modern Gil Evans. An experimental composer and arranger of such immense talent that his twelve piece big band deconstructs the traditions of big band and breaks a tune down to a more organic level. In short, a big band in numbers with small ensemble arrangements. New sounds, new textures and new ways of looking at previously held notions of musical tradition excite me. Culture blows my mind. An adventurous work that takes the tradition of form and function of big band music and casually pushes them aside and allows the solo voices to take the lead and provide the anchor for this Philly based ensemble.

The release opens with the classic Wayne Shorter tune "Footprints" as arranged by Vanore. The featured soloists include Bob Howell on tenor sax along with John Vanore on trumpet and Dan Monaghan on drums. Perhaps the forgotten performer here is bassist Craig Thomas setting the rhythmic pulse and pushing the harmonic direction of this melodic gem from perhaps the finest living composer of our time in Shorter. Essentially big band in reverse and similar in concept to the iconic Gil Evans when the musical envelope needs to be pushed. "Whispers Of Spring" is a minor key of harmonic dissonance that borders on what I refer to as neo-classical and is a master class in composition from the Vanore original. Featuring Michael Mee on alto sax, Ron Thomas on piano, Greg Kettinger on guitar, Craig Thomas on bass and Dan Monaghan on drums one begins to see a myriad of possibilities in where big band could be heading.  This exquisitely performed intimated ballad with jazz orchestra arranging is a stunning example of letting individuals voices find their own lyrical path within a tune while charting their own harmonic direction. "Mompou" as adapted by Vanore from Cancion #5 by Fredrick Mompou highlights the versatility of Vanore and the entire ensemble as once again they take the concept of traditional big band arrangements and simply flip the group dynamic on the fly in an attempt to allow Bob Howell on tenor sax and Dan Monaghan on drums to supply the sonic fury while the other ten members provide the deceptively subtle nuances to round out another stellar selection.

Adventurous, innovative and at times experimental, John Vanore & Abstract Truth cuts a deeper path than has previously been attempted in large ensemble works. To compare Vanore to Gil Evans is inherently unfair as each has or had their own unique sense of melody and the ability to hear the progressions differently than most composers. What the two men have in common is the ability to push the music forward as Vanore is simply the natural evolution of what pioneers like Gil Evans started. Virtually flawless and well deserving the highest acclaim.