AMN Reviews: Big Heart Machine – Live at the Jazz Gallery (2020; Bandcamp)

In this era of social distancing, big band jazz comports less with live performances than most other arrangements of musical performers. Luckily, Brian Krock’s Big Heart Machine had a recording in the bag from Halloween of last year. Released last week, Live at the Jazz Gallery features Krock leading an 18-piece ensemble through three of his own compositions and his takes on two from others.

The outfit consists of a number of New York creative music notables, including than none other than Anna Webber who is known for co-leading her own exploratory large group. Instrumentation-wise, we have five saxophonists (with three doubling on flute, the other two on clarinet), four trumpet / flugelhorn players, four trombonists, and then one each guitar, piano, bass, and drums. Krock conducts.

The album launches with a bang, as Unblock the Stoppage is jarring and intricate, moving deftly between conventional playing and extended techniques. There are traditional big band jazz swells and fades underneath layers of adornment. Ultimately, the track lands somewhere between that, free improv, and orchestra music. Krock uses the full range of his company creating thick walls as well as synchronous yet disjoint meanderings.

An adaptation of Ligeti’s Fanfares (“reimagining” might be a more descriptive label) showcases Krock’s ability to take a piano etude and convert it into a full group exercise. In doing so he adds more than a little swing and bounce, rendering the piece difficult to recognize. Nonetheless, Krock preserves its deceptive complexity. As a side note, he feels equally comfortable the compositions of Billy Strayhorn, Frank Zappa, and Carla Bley – none of which appear on this recording, but this may give you an idea of the breadth of his universe.

Pareidoliac closes things out with discordant blowing and jagged turns coupled with more pastoral sections. Flute takes a large role. This morphs into a more aggressive and oddly-timed theme involving the band as a whole, earning Live at the Jazz Gallery an unreserved recommendation.