Challenge Records (label)
12 January 2018 (released)
15 March 2018
Looking back eight or nine decades, big band music more or less found its groove and stuck with it. Players got faster and more intricate but the general mood and ethos pretty much gelled into a solid archetype. Meanwhile, from up jazz's sleeve, the progenitors of fusion took a hard left turn, throwing out every rulebook to constantly seek new ground. With mind-bending rhythms and dizzying runs, the progressive fusion types didn't give a damn if you kicked your lady's feet right out from under her on the dance floor or hopelessly lost the rhythm in your feet to a 'toss the appliances down the stairs' cascade. Anything in the name of chasing the future.
South Korean ensemble the Jungsu Choi Tiny Orkester bridges these divergent camps of jazz, giving big band motifs a serious jolt of electricity by incorporating the wild swooping nature of modern fusion. The 5 horns, 4 rhythm section players, cello, male voice and composer not only use an abundance of countermelodies but “counter-styles” with one faction keeping the classic big beat bumpin' while the other provides an aerial assault like the Blue Angels showing off their jet plane acrobatics. The result is a riveting style that reinvents the form. Bringing some blazing technique to big band and injecting some good ol' swagger back into what can be the pretentious and nerdy world of fusion.
Tchuss Jazz Era comes out swinging with 'Stolen Yellow' and 'Anthropology', serving as proof that the band can both steamroll and shred. The intricate horn and flute melodies are accompanied by vocalist Jinho Pyo who serves as a sort of guide through the chaos by merely lending a human voice to the flurry of notes flying at your face. Perhaps one of the more fascinating choices is to have the guitar opened up and raw like a blues recording rather than round and plunky as most jazz recordings would place it. This allows the guitarist, Sunyung Hong to take the reins of this hectic hydra and ease it back behind the beat, taming the beast long enough to ride it. 'Stolen Yellow' still erupts with manic sax solos and snappy horns but it's this hazy, bluesy guitar that sets this tune apart from its brethren.
Just when the effluence of fusion's cavalcade of notes would usually push the casual listener over the edge, numbed by riffing, the JCTO pulls back and delivers its most beautiful number 'Nach Wein 224'. The piano-centric piece begins in a dreamlike state but soon develops into what would be one killer '80s TV theme. The flute work Eunmi Kim is particularly effective in drawing out the emotion of this enigmatic tune.
As if they hadn't proven their chops yet, the group unleashes 'What If Ellington Didn't Take the 'A' Train?', a chugging, screeching juggernaut that pulls as much influence from Eddie Van Halen as the old Duke. Mimicking a renegade train barrelling down the track, guitarist Hong again proves the value of reaching beyond the conventions that even the most whacked out jazz fusion players abide by, breaking with the genre boundaries and embracing rock n roll to achieve the soundscapes he seeks. However, despite its progressive leanings, the tune is still very much indebted to Ellington's effervescent style.
The Jungsu Choi Tiny Orkester has put together a sensational record that not only revitalizes both big band and fusion but also spawns something entirely new. Jungsu's talent as an arranger and director is stunning and the band he has assembled absolutely slay. Incredible.