AMN Reviews: Nathan Hubbard / Skeleton Key Orchestra – Furiously Dreaming (2016; Orenda Records)

Big-band avant-jazz is having a moment these days, such as the works of Anthony Braxton, Darcy James Argue, Fred Ho (RIP), John Korsrud, Kamasi Washington, and Dan Weiss, among others.  Add to that list drummer Nathan Hubbard.

Recorded over a three-year period from 2007-2010, the double-CD Furiously Dreaming features 49 performers, notables including Jason Robinson, Kris Tiner, Jeff Kaiser, and Michael Dessen, as well as a chorus.  Tracking in at over 130 minutes, there is a lot to absorb here, but not just because of its length.  The album also presents some rather knotty compositions across its eight tracks.

As a whole, Furiously Dreaming, is full of complex, angular lines. While some of it is tightly composed, other tracks offer extended horn solos and improvisations. Elements of both free improv and atmospheric drones are present. All of this is the foreground of an orchestral jazz band backdrop. The addition of the chorus on certain tracks adds to the atmosphere, making this recording even more difficult to categorize. In addition to its musical appeal, Furiously Dreaming includes spoken-word voice overs, that are downright creepy at times. For instance, narration on the third track, sleepdreamsilence, seems as if it is right out of a psychological horror movie.

High points? There are many.  The sheer magnitude of this release makes it difficult to call out any in particular. Perhaps a good starting point is the first track, Crows on the Roof. A jazz orchestra is accompanied by distorted electric guitar and a driving beat through a discordant intro.  The guitar duels with a sax for a while, together and then over a multi-percussive break. A jagged horn theme soon emerges, which evolves into a horn soloing over a brooding, multi-layered orchestral atmosphere, with disjointed percussion. Another haunting spoken word interlude follows, before a staccato variation on the horn theme returns.  Foreground piano then rolls over dual percussion and walls of horns.  The piano is replaced by chants from the chorus, which slows fade over the final three minutes of the track.

In sum, Hubbard et al. have released a brilliantly compelling album of dense, uncategorizable music.