When I listened to Easy-Bake Orchestra perform At Music-Theatre Group’s (MTG) new performance space @ OneArmRed/ in DUMBO March 4th, I heard the survival of the Big Band. Oh yes, brass, big, solid, and fluid. But what smooth, elegant and luxurious music, with bandleader composer arranger Joshua Shneider at the helm.
Funny thing about big bands, although they are a vibrant genre, they are still very much overlooked and feel somewhat dated. Here in NYC, we are lucky to have many big bands performing regularly, but for me, the Easy-Bake Orchestra experience was one of the most amazingly delicious evenings of big band I have witnessed to date, bringing the genre solidly into the 21st century. Footnote: too bad they were all men except for amazing vocalist Saundra Williams (where are the women players Josh?).
Today’s Big Bands, not unlike a Broadway pit are populated with such competent players that their seats get traded around like baseball cards with substitutions common bait and switch. Although catching the difference is subtle, the result more frequently than not, a group that lacks cohesiveness while arrangements push players sight-reading skills, there's not much room left for passionate understanding of the piece at hand. So back to Joshua’s group, all the players are original, no one had a substitute and the sound reflected that. The 17 players performed complicated and eloquent arrangements of Josh’s gorgeous compositions. Not only was there room for passionate understanding, they flew. They filled the space with so much sound, my ears felt as if they were having a long needed recalibration.
Excuse the pun, they blew me away. The sound that filled the room was sonically pure and visceral The compositions were on a level of impressive new music that made my heart pause then swell up a notch or two, and that was only in the first 5 minutes!
Joshua’s style of conducting made it clear he was allowing the sound to emerge, with only gently prodding and actually stepping aside at times, a wonderful body gesture to this sound vehicle on it’s way down the road, as if to say, I’m secure, I’m trusting and enjoying the ride, and a cohesive result of writing, arranging, practicing, and partnering the beauty being performed before our eyes.
When I first walked into the space, a large rectangular brick walled room with massively high ceilings, my initial thought was oh-oh, brass and brick do not mix. I was comforted by the obvious sound absorbing panels attached strategically to the ceiling. The sound was anything but harsh, kudos to the sound engineer and design.
Saundra Williams joined later in the set. a wonderfully raw version of divas like DeeDee Bridgewater or Diane Reeves, swung her body before a sound ever escaped her throat and when it did, we were all mesmerized. Wow, she stepped right into place and the orchestra moved as one.
The Joshua Shneider Easy-Bake Orchestra was the invited guest of longtime developer of new musical and theatrical works Music-Theatre Group led by Diane Wondisford. I look forward to catching up on other projects as they develop.