Amid the dreck that arrives in the mail for our perusal there are occasional gems of such polished beauty that they demand acknowledgement, especially if they are by artists deserving of more recognition. Such is the case with Universe B,
by Wil Swindler's Elevenet. Not exactly a household word, the Elevenet hearkens back to the days of Birth of the Cool
and the collaborations of trumpeter Miles Davis and arranger Gil Evans.
Like Evans, Swindler has assembled a gifted large ensemble for which he has written and arranged some demanding, but swinging tunes. Also like Evans, he revels in the darker brass tones of saxophones, bass clarinet, euphonium, and French horn, in addition to trumpets, flugelhorns and trombone.
From the opening notes of the title track, the listener knows he's in for a delightful ride through unusual harmonic developments, powered by an insistent rhythmic pulse and furthered by the brilliant soloing of Dana Landry on the rarely used Rhodes electric piano, Swindler on soprano sax and Peter Sommer on tenor sax.
?She's Too Conflicted? is a gorgeous Swindler original anchored by a ?dialogue? between Gabriel Mervine's flugelhorn and Swindler's alto sax, over a lush brass chorale. The composer is not without humor, as he proves with the delightful romp ?The Equestrian Pedestrian,? complete with a walking (galloping?) bass line.
It is not surprising that Swindler was commissioned by the International Association for Jazz Education to write a piece honoring Gil Evans. The result is the beautiful, 11-minute ?Glass,? an orchestral masterpiece that also features solos by Mervine on flugelhorn and the composer on alto sax.
In addition to five original tunes, Swindler chose three unusual covers. Gil Evans? arrangement of ?Miles Ahead? is an obvious choice, with its lush brass voicing. Swindler's adaptation features Mervine on trumpet. Billy Strayhorn's ?A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing? gets an arrangement that emphasizes the ballad's unusual harmonies and perceived irony. Most daring of all is Swindler's beguiling take on George Harrison's ?Blue Jay Way,? a very strange tune that has been largely neglected in the study and interpretation of The Beatles.