Brian Krock’s Big Heart Machine Rumbles to Life


When asked about the primary influencers of his big band project Big Heart Machine, multi-reed composer and leader Brian Krock said, ”My main instrument is guitar, and I came up playing with heavy metal bands. So, that finds its way into my music. But in the last 10 years I’ve been studying scores of contemporary classical notations. My main influence is [Hungarian] composer György Ligeti and his Violin Concerto with all its microtones, improvisation and harmonic aesthetic.”

Those disparate worlds marked the Aug. 16 album-release party at New York’s Jazz Gallery, which also celebrated contributions by producer Darcy James Argue and conductor Miho Hazama to the record, issued through trombonist Nick Finzer’s Outside In Music. The invigorated 18-piece orchestra negotiated Krock’s vibrant twists and turns with playful ease as the lush horn harmonies of classical and jazz converged with frenzied rhythms, avant-synthesizer stretches, idiosyncratic dissonances, pop grooves and blistering guitar blasts by longtime collaborator Olli Hirvonen. In the first-set finale, the churning “Mighty Purty” included a Monk-like trumpet section blast, tenor saxophone conversations and two rounds of band-member rhythmic claps. Krock challenged people to name the standard on which he based the piece.

“No one guessed it,” he said between sets. “No one ever does. It’s a dearrangement, a surprise, a puzzle. I won’t tell anyone, unless they guess it. The clue is that the claps make for the rhythm of the melody of the original song.”

Born in the Midwest, Krock studied jazz at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and earned his doctorate at the Manhattan School of Music, schooled in particular by jazz and classical teachers Jim McNeilly and Dr. J. Mark Stambaugh.

During his first week in New York, Krock was riding the train and recognized Argue, the leader of one of his favorite bands since high school, Secret Society. They started a conversation that led to further talks. And when Krock was ready to rev up his Big Heart Machine, he sent Argue some of the arrangements, saying he could use some help.

“It was a shot in the dark,” Krock said. “He said he’d look at the scores. He observed that they were very complicated and then said he could help. He’s a very conscientious person.”

Argue taught the younger composer how to plan out the recording schedule, how to manage rehearsals and helped give him the focus and concentration to make the project drive. “You can hear Darcy’s fingerprints everywhere,” Krock said.

Another key member of the project has been Hazama, who met Krock when they both were students at MSM. “Brian asked me to conduct this piece, because he wanted someone to lead with his ideas in place,” she said. “I knew him, but I did not know his music with all the rhythmic meters and modulation. It was key for me to go deep and solve his music. I discovered how unique he was. It was music that I had never heard before. It does not sound like an anything else. I admire him.”

While Krock was making ends meet by performing in touring Broadway shows, playing by rote for eight shows a week, he spent his imaginative time working on music that became the Tamalpais Suite, a five-part work that forms the centerpiece of the album. Based on a long hike of switchbacks, steep ravines, redwood groves and seascapes his sister took him on in the wilderness around Mt. Tamalpais just north of San Francisco, Krock crafted his reflections into a piece offering listeners the experience of the trek.

“The tune ‘Stinson Beach’ is the central movement of the whole suite,” he said. “Chloe Rowlands plays the melody at the beginning on the fluegelhorn, which forms the quiet, main melodic cell. Then there’s loud grit at the end, as the waves crash in and you realize the force of nature that has shaped this place and the whole world. It’s beautiful, but also terrifying.” DB

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