By Sean J. O’Connell | Published November 2019
To understand where Suite Extracts Vol. 1 is coming from, it’s important to note that bandleader Michael Leonhart has as many original compositions on the album as Wu-Tang Clan and Spinal Tap combined. To call the recording “eclectic” is an understatement, and thankfully the playfulness here goes beyond mere gimmickry.
Leonhart’s orchestra is amplified by guest spots by the likes of saxophonist Chris Potter and guitarist Nels Cline. The 11-minute collision of Spinal Tap and Ornette Coleman, though, should turn a lot of heads on its own: An almost marching band-like movement states the theme to “Big Bottom,” sly horns articulating over the heavy bass riff. Gradually, the size of the band seems to shrink, making way for a plaintive saxophone solo on what’s become Coleman’s “Lonely Woman.” The horns move stealthily, wailing on the melody from the 60-year-old The Shape Of Jazz To Come. But for those more enamored of hip-hop, there’s the radical reimagining of GZA’s “Liquid Swords,” where sinister strings only hint at the Willie Mitchel sample used on the original.
This is bold, energetic music with no fear of pulling from anywhere in the pop world, and it’s a refreshing assessment of the modern standard, each track a puzzle of familiarity.
Suite Extracts Vol. 1: Alu Jon Jonki Jon; La Fuga Di Derek; Big Bottom/Lonely Woman; Dance Of The Maidens At Stonehenge; Built For Comfort; Jazz Odyssey/Lick My Love Pump; Liquid Swords; Da Mystery Of Chessboxin; Liquid Chamber; Shimmy Shimmy Ya/Glaciers Of Ice; The Ballad Of St. Hubbins; Quiet Man Is Dead Man Opposite People. (64:53)
Personnel: Michael Leonhart, trumpet, cello, mellophonium, drum machine, bass harmonica; Kevin Raczka, Eric Harland, drums; Elizabeth Pupo-Walker, Daniel Freedman, percussion; Joe Martin, Jay Leonhart, bass; Robbie Mangano, Nels Cline, guitar; Nathan Koci, accordion; Philip Dizack, Dave Guy, Jordan McLean, Carter Yasutake, Andy Bush, trumpet; Ray Mason, trombone; John Ellis, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, alto flute; Ian Hendrickson-Smith, tenor saxophone, alto flute; Chris Potter, Donny McCaslin, tenor saxophone; Jason Marshall, baritone saxophone; Sam Sadigursky, piccolo, alto flute; Daniel Srebnick, alto flute; Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon, contrabassoon; Pauline Kim, violin, viola; Erik Friedlander, Milo Leonhart, cello.