No, the San Francisco-based Electric Squeezebox Orchestra does not come with accordions attached. It does, however, come with a well-developed eye for harmony and rhythm, an inflexible group dynamic and a number of perceptive soloists, all of which serve to make the ensemble's second album, The Falling Dream, a pleasure to hear.
The orchestra's nominal leader is trumpeter Erik Jekabson who wrote three of the album's tasteful numbers, the undulating "Guala," circuitous "November" and hard-hitting finale, "Jungle Rumble" (the last two of which are also the longest tracks, each one running for more than eleven minutes). Baritone Charlie Gurke authored a brace of charmers ("The Captain," "A.N.I.F") while trumpeter Darren Johnston composed the lively, brass-accented title selection on which he solos smartly with tenor Michael Zilber. Zilber wrote the psalm-like "St. Paul," which follows (and calls to mind Johnny Mandel's classic "Emily" as it showcases Larry Delacruz's burnished alto saxophone). Yet another trumpeter, Doug Morton, penned the handsome "Bossa Novato" and arranged McCoy Tyner's strapping "Senor Carlos."
Delacruz solos again (with trumpeter Ian Carey) on "Novato" (on which percussionist John Santos accentuates the rhythm, as he does on "The Captain" and "Jungle Rumble"), trombonist Rob Ewing, trumpeter Henry Hung and drummer Hamir Atwal on Jordan Samuels' good-natured "Wicked." Gurke, as one might expect, is out front (with pianist Dan Zemelman) on the rhythmic "A.N.I.F" and with Santos, trombonist Danny Lubin-Laden and alto Sheldon Brown on "The Captain." Brown (flute) has center stage to himself on "Gualala." A new set of soloists shines on "Jungle Rumble," led by trumpeter Johnston and including tenor Marcus Stephens and bassist Tommy Folen. While the soloists are one and all engaging, it is the orchestra as a whole that most often entices the ear and carries the day.
The ESO plays with the cohesion and assurance of an ensemble that has been tested on the front lines, as indeed it has for more than three years with a weekly Sunday night gig at Doc's Lab in San Francisco's North Beach area. It's the kind of exposure that pays large dividends on The Falling Dream, an exemplary enterprise from start to finish.