The big band format can be a hard sell. It’s a large machine and the moving parts frequently don’t have a lot of room. Very often, as a reviewer, I personally give this caveat whenever reviewing big bands. I personally am not the man to listen to them, particularly in the straight-ahead format– a now conventional style played in what was a rather conventional format. Yet every now and then, a group can perform the conventional conventionally but do so in such a technically well-executed way that such ability cannot be denied, even to the most jaded of listeners. Brooklyn big band Savoy In Color in their new live EP, Hear Today Then: Live at Zeb’s somehow makes affecting music out of the everyday.
Composer and bandleader Ben Cockerham’s group takes various forms, yet it’s in this smaller grouping of Cockerham on piano, Britton Matthews on vibes, Joe Ancowitz on trumpet, Geoff Countryman on alto sax, Gary Pickard on tenor sax, Damian Peters on bass, and Dave Previ on drums that these folks exhibit a coolness that rarely rises above a simmer, but it must be noted that a simmer is still a good deal of heat. There’s a feel for the cool jazz era here, evoking the Gil Evans tone that the group strives for well. It’s a sound that’s definitive to people’s perception of what jazz is, yet it gains all the points it should for hitting these points of the genre. It carries all the stereotypes, but they’re still stereotypes that sound pretty damn good.
The question of whether or not this is the big band that can convert the unconverted is the real question. This may not be the introduction people need to a modern big band unless it’s exactly the modern big band that does the job. There isn’t a subversion of form here, but that may not be a bad thing. There is a reason why the form is the form and when a band with players like these who can make all these horns sound so cool without veering into corny (though it’s not entirely out of its sightline), perhaps this is the even-tempered band that shows why a sound like this can still be timeless.
Savoy In Color’s Here Today Then: Live at Zeb’s is available now at the group’s Bandcamp page. It hits iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify on August 28th.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.