Big ideas, Big band
"Sure there's dissonance," says pianist and composer Gordon Lee about "Flying Dream," his new CD on OA2 recordings. "That's a characteristic of my style. But it's a friendly dissonance," he adds.
Lee's previous album, "Rough Jazz," explored the Portland resident's dark side, but he says this big band recording exhibits the joy and happiness in his music.
Lee's collection of original (and one standard) big band tunes may be cheerful and exuberant, but don't expect Glenn Miller or Tommy Dorsey - for whom Lee worked in the 70's - when Lee leads his 16-piece GLeeful Big Band in a CD release performance Saturday at the Old Church. This music is far more varied and complex.
"I'm trying to integrate jazz with classical music," Lee had said when he was just beginning to write the material for this CD in the late 1990's. And like his inspirations Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus, Lee has used the big band format as the vehicle for intricate compositions - capped by soaring solos - arranged to colorful and expansive effect. Driven more by narrative flow than dance beats, the 10 tunes on "Flying Dream" offer a panorama of momentary resolutions and shifting moods much like movie music.
From the sunny cha-cha of "Winter Comes" to the odd but evocative meter of "Bitter Wind" to the agitated counterpoint of "Tobacco Monkey," these compositions maintain a festive spirit despite the demanding technical problems they present.
"It's often the technical challenge that inspires musicians," explains Lee, 51, who teaches jazz studies at Western Oregon University while holding down the piano chair in the Mel Brown Septet. "A lot of these tunes were studies in how to work with a particular musical problem."
Fortunately, each tune is built on a recurring melody that defines its character, and is driven by a persistent rhythmic pulse that allows the swinging velocity of jazz syncopation to assert itself, transporting the music from tone poem to dance.
"I'd like to take this group on the road," says Lee, who has borrowed many of the area's best big band instrumentalists for his projectincluding Tom Bergeron, Carlton Jackson, Renato Caranto, Rich Cooper, Stan Bock and Farnell Newton.
"I think this music is different. We're not afraid to get weird, but it's like a party band."
Well, a certain kind of party, anyway, where cheerful complexity and friendly dissonance are kicked along by the power of America's dashing and authentic orchestral form: the jazz big band.