If big band jazz began on dance hall stages, it didn’t take long to move up to the concert hall. It was a move that offered musicians new possibilities. Danceable swing was great, but the concert hall offered them the place to compete with the kind of music that was considered more serious. As early as 1924, Paul Whiteman and George Gershwin had famously shown them the way when “Rhapsody in Blue” was premiered at New York City’s Aeolian Hall. And while Benny Goodman took his orchestra to the Carnegie Hall stage in 1938, there was swinging dance music aplenty; there were concert pieces—most notably a 12-minute version of “Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)"—as well. And if economics made the big dance band something of a dinosaur after the '40s, concert jazz bands had better luck—think Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, and Miles Davis’s work with Gil Evans.
While there is clearly some growing momentum these days to resurrect the big dance band as seen in recent releases by Bernt Rosengren and Joe Clark, Culture, the new album from trumpeter/composer John Vanore and his unique 12-piece ensemble, Abstract Truth is clearly intended as an innovative voice in the concert band mode. This is not dance music. As Vanore says about Curiosity, an earlier album, and the creation of the band: “It was decided to write for and create a 'new' group, based on the concept of the intimacy of a small group with the fire power of a big band.” In the liner notes to the new album, Vanore explains the group’s aesthetic: “Abstract Truth defines our voice by presenting a uniquely instrumental large ensemble, where the solo voice is prominent, if not dominant ... drawing on the traditions of the big band, but neither limited by nor imitating it.”
Unique seems to be the key term to describe the band. Brass dominates. Aside from Vanore’s trumpet, personnel includes four more trumpeters who double on the flugelhorn, a French horn, a trombone, and a bass trombone. Add two reed players, a guitar, bass and drums, and a pianist and a bass clarinetist are featured on a few of the tracks. It is easy to see that unique is certainly an apt descriptor; this is a band that has a sound all its own.