The PsychoAcoustic Orchestra
Fun With Notes
Cabin 2 Music
It seems strange that, before making Fun With Notes, the PsychoAcoustic Orchestra had not recorded a full CD in 20 years. The 13-piece Cincinnati-based little big band is one of the more exciting jazz groups on the scene today. Its founder and leader, pianist-keyboardist Pat Kelly, contributes inventive compositions and arrangements that give the group its own musical identity.
Formed in 1992 and previously documented on 1994’s Supreme Thing and 1996’s Reactivation, the PsychoAcoustic Orchestra returns in 2016 with nine Kelly originals. Fun With Notes begins with the title cut, a colorful workout inspired by Charles Mingus. The surprising changes in tempos, the bass patterns behind the solos of tenor-saxophonist Steve Hoskins and trombonist Marc Fields, and the feel of a church social all hint at Mingus during the fun opener.
The brooding and harmonically sophisticated “Shades” has excellent spots for trumpeter Kim Pensyl and Rick VanMatre on soprano. Changing the mood, “Alleluia” is a celebratory swinger with infectious horn riffs being played behind the boppish statements of trumpeter Jeff Folkens and tenor-saxophonist Garin Webb. Kelly’s piano solo is both soulful and swinging. “Nebulous” is more laidback, setting a mysterious mood and putting the spotlight on the flutes of VanMatre and Hoskins.
“The Blues That Never Ends” has a perfect title since Pat Kelly’s melody purposely does not completely resolve. This piece gives the ensemble an opportunity to play in a 1950s cool jazz style a la Gerry Mulligan featuring some colorful plunger-muted trumpet from Hank Mautner. The Latinish “La Ofrenda” has an arrangement worthy of Chick Corea, featuring strong improvisations from Kelly and the versatile VanMatre, this time on alto. The swinging “Eniarrol” has concise solos from VanMatre on soprano, trumpeter Pensyl and trombonist Marc Fields along with some typically impeccable ensemble playing.
Fun With Notes concludes with a lengthy tribute to the spirit of John Coltrane (“Chant For Ohnedaruth”) and the brief “Ornette.” While the Coltrane homage has a spot for tenor-saxophonist Steve Hoskins, it builds on ‘Trane’s music rather than merely recreating it while “Ornette” is a playful piece with VanMatre’s alto that Ornette Coleman would have enjoyed.
While there are references to Pat Kelly’s predecessors, his writing on Fun With Notes is quite original, colorful and creative. Kelly’s originals, which are expertly interpreted by the top-notch musicians, deserve to be heard. Fun With Notes is highly recommended to anyone interested in modern jazz of the 21st century.
Scott Yanow, jazz journalist/historian and author of 11 books including The Great Jazz Guitarists, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76