Saturday, February 2, 2013

Live at Birdland

Although I had never before heard the Birdland Big Band, I had high hopes as I entered the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday evening.  Big bands don't tour anymore. To be on tour, performing large ensemble jazz music in 2013, this just had to be a great show!  I imagined that they might have figured out the magic formula to presenting big band jazz.  In addition to having cutting-edge arrangements and stellar musicianship, maybe they even had a great light show.  Perhaps they had an innovative stage set-up, like what Darcy Argue used in his recent Brooklyn Babylon production:

Darcy Argue's innovative big band stage set-up for "Brooklyn Babylon"
Darcy Argue's innovative big band stage set-up for "Brooklyn Babylon"

Alas, very few of my hopes transpired.  Sure there were some great musicians in the band who blew exciting solos, but for the most part, this was just a stock big band, sitting in the normal stage configuration, with minimal stage lighting, playing typical big band repertoire which could be covered by most any metropolitan big band.  In no way did they compare musically to the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Westchester Jazz Orchestra, Maria Schneider's band or the Brussels Jazz Orchestra.

modern drummer, Tommy Igoe
To me, the entire performance had a disingenuous quality to it, most of which stemmed from bandleader Tommy Igoe's drumming.  He is clearly a great contemporary, modern (rock) drummer with chops galore.  Elements of his playing were impressive, but in my opinion, lacked a quality of sincerity which stems from the mindset of "check me out" rather than "how can I best compliment and shape the music?"  [Seeing drummer Brian Blade the following evening with Wayne Shorter affirmed these thoughts.]

Birdland, the jazz corner of the world
After mulling it over, I have concluded that Tommy Igoe is to be respected for his marketing prowess in using the Birdland brand to secure a month-long American big band tour. The Birdland Big Band lacks a distinguishable sound of their own, and I wish that Igoe had taken more time to consider how he could have used this opportunity to truly advance the art form, rather than to secure a solitary tour.

1 comment:

  1. When I heard them at PASIC 2010 they played really LOUD the entire time and with no dynamics whatsoever. Higher, faster, louder pretty much sums it up. Ironically, the young guy playing lead trumpet that night also plays lead in the Vanguard Orchestra, but a comparison between those bands almost isn't even fair...Igoe is a flamboyant, chopsy was Buddy Rich, but at least Rich ALWAYS put the music first! There IS something to be said for a big band playing quietly and slowly sometimes!