Something interesting is brewing in greater Boston and much of it seems to revolve around the tireless multi-instrumentalist David Peck (PEK) and the various projects documented on his Evil Clown label. The Leap of Faith Orchestra is PEK's largest ensemble and the raison d'etre of the smaller working units. As per the liner notes, "All of the other contemporaneous Evil Clown performances and recordings by all of the ensembles — Leap of Faith, String Theory, Mekaniks, Metal Chaos Ensemble and the Sub-Units — are preparation for these full Leap of Faith Orchestra performances." The Orchestra consists of twenty-five members, some of whom (Glynis Lomon, Yuri Zbitnov, Eric Zinman, PEK) have been playing together in different ensembles for over 20 years. Their instruments range from reeds and brass to strings, percussions, and electronics. Fittingly, the result is something that is highly improvised, yet rehearsed; contained, yet grand.
Having listened to a lot of large ensemble music of this sort, I have always been curious about organization and dynamics. How does one design such an orchestra? By what mechanisms do composers and leaders guide the band to a common direction? Or, is this simply left up to the ebbs and flows of the performance or the whims and intentions of the performers? PEK gives detailed insight into these questions in the accompanying booklet, which explains his compositional techniques and includes copies of the score, complete with a glossary and instrumental section by section break down. (This alone makes the disc itself much more worthwhile than the download. That is, if the materiality of the object and the unique packaging — as usual designed by PEK himself — were not enough.)
Cosmological Horizons begins with a gong and mystical chimes. The rest of the band fades in unevenly, as if each section is being jostled out of one private trance and into another, more active communal one. What follows is 85-minutes of controlled chaos. The piece sounds largely free, though its contours are thoughtfully composed. This is apparent not only in the surprisingly tight sectional outbursts, but the numerous instances where the band collectively quiets to make space for brief cello, bass, piano, and other miscellaneous interludes. The percussion adds foundation and texture, with an understated dynamism. The horns are numerous, but they never fall into the free blowing competition that consume so many avant-garde big bands. The strings appear and disappear as if carried by an unsteady breeze. The electronics rarely come to the fore but offer further depth to the otherwise primarily acoustic ensemble. In other words, there is a lot going on. And although the overall effect is compelling enough, repeated listens uncover the mechanics, the discrete explorations of timbre and tone, the interlocking and interdependent musical gears that are turning at each moment. A single, intricate track recorded live at Killian Hall (MIT), this really is an opus, and one well worth checking out.
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