This is a break with precedent for saxophonist and composer Reddy, as it's the first time he's recorded an extended composition for a large ensemble of which he's not a performing member. His role here is that of both composer and conductor, and he's fortunate indeed to have a group so clearly capable of making his music come to life.
A note of caution needs to be sounded, however. Any listener of a reactionary frame of mind is going to be disappointed at the absence of staples such as the theme-solos-theme format that's strait-jacketed a lot of similar projects in the past. Reddy the composer proves himself to be far more preoccupied with fashioning a kind of musical collage from which individual voices emerge occasionally only to be absorbed again within the compositional framework.
Thus the parade ground drums of the opening minutes of "Spacious Skies/Faithless Bells" are overtaken by the wash of the ensemble, which offers ample evidence of the pertinence of the composition's title. The idea of the storm in both its natural and human-made forms is further evoked by a guitar part which is notable for being fraught but staying on the right side of the histrionic.
Such deftness of both touch and realization is evident also on "Fool's March," where Brandon Ross's deft slide work on acoustic guitar carries with it an exceptional depth of evocation and the skills of Reddy the composer are amply in evidence in the balance struck between ensemble weight and color.
The primacy of ensemble writing and the art of the players in bringing it to fruition are again evident on "God Damn," a piece permeated by a mood of woozy joy at odds with the title. There's evidence also of collective improvisation of the order in which four or more voices operate simultaneously. The fact that the results are anything but clamorous is the product of deep understanding and empathy between composer and musicians.
"Amongst The Ruins" closes things out and, on the purely musical level, perhaps carries the greatest baggage. It mines a similar vein of reflective but almost morbid intensity as the likes of Henry Cow and Univers Zero have done in the past, until the quasi-militaristic feel that the composition opened with comes to the fore. Indeed the cyclical notion this suggests might just have been one of Reddy's objectives in bringing this music to realization. What's abundantly obvious is that he's found his own voice and it's only to his credit that he speaks so persuasively with it.
Personnel: Rob Reddy: composer and conductor; Oscar Noriega: clarinet and bass clarinet; Steve Elson: flute and soprano saxophone; Cochemea Gastelum: alto saxophone; Tim Otto: soprano and tenor saxophones; Lisa Parrott: soprano and baritone saxophones; John Carlson: trumpet; Bob Scarpulla: trumpet; Mark Taylor: French horn; Lis Rubbard: French horn; Curtis Hasselbring: trombone; Charles Burnham: violin; Sarah Bernstein: violin; Marlene Rice: viola; Mary Wooten: cello; Dom Richards: double bass; Brandon Ross: acoustic and electric guitars; Jon Margulies: electric guitar; Pheeroan akLaff: drums; Guillermo E. Brown: drums.