Dissolve, due out February 2, 2024 via Adhyâropa Records, launches the adventurous NYC-based ensemble co-led by Nelson and saxophonist/composer Tim O’Dell
“[Nelson’s] writing is complex but emotionally engaging, dense yet clean and resonant.” – Donald Elfman, New York City Jazz Record
“Nelson is an ambitious and daring composer… [who has] come up with a distinctive synthesis of modern jazz, and contemporary orchestral music.” – Dave Wayne, All About Jazz
With the 15-piece Makrokosmos Orchestra, composer/guitarist Richard Nelson takes a big picture, broad-spectrum view of contemporary creative music. The orchestra, a New York City outpost for the Maine-based Nelson and co-leader and saxophonist Tim O’Dell, encompasses techniques and influences from modern jazz and contemporary classical music, maneuvering deftly between ambitious compositions and adventurous improvisation. The ensemble’s debut album, Dissolve, showcases its sonic breadth via a dynamic three-part suite by Nelson (O’Dell’s equally ambitious writing for the band will be featured on a future release).
Due out February 2, 2024 from Adhyâropa Records, Dissolve comprises three sweeping pieces that combine to form a captivating and grand scale narrative (one that Nelson suggests can be recombined in any order). The title of each disparate but interconnected work suggests a state of transition, a transformative action fitting an orchestra that exists so boldly in the spaces between genre and category.
“The relationship between the titles and my sense of the compositional process was definitely a symbiotic and energizing one,” Nelson says. “They represent the smallest distillation of these active processes that I had in mind. I envisioned a sequence of changing states that the musicians and listeners can interpret in so many different ways: mental states, spiritual states, physical states, et cetera.”
Dissolve marks the latest evolution of Nelson’s innovative conception of orchestral composition. His 2011 release Pursuit was built around a five-movement suite, while 2015’s Deep River featured a radical reinterpretation of 20thcentury American roots music arranged for the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra. A Maine resident for three decades, Nelson met O’Dell shortly after the saxophonist arrived in the Pine Tree State and discovered that the two shared similarly wide-lens views on contemporary creative music. Together they conceived the Makrokosmos Orchestra as a means to draw on the boundless talent pool in New York. The personnel includes such multi-talented players as saxophonist Adam Kolker, trumpeters John Carlson and Jacob Varmus, hornist Marshall Sealy, keyboardist Arco Sandoval, bassists Ken Filiano and Matt Pavolka, percussionist Rex Benincasa, and drummers Scott Neumann and Rob Garcia, among others.
“The band grew out of our shared interest in being active in New York and writing for musicians of the caliber that we could assemble there,” Nelson explains. “Whether in Maine or New York, I’m always looking for players who are both top level improvisers and also creative agents. In my creative work I’ve cultivated a merging of elements and impulses from contemporary classical composition and the jazz heritage, and this group has become a key outlet for cultivating that aesthetic.”
Nelson often draws inspiration from the natural world, a passion that he’s carried from his native Bay Area to the breathtaking forests and landscapes of his adopted home. His writing for the Makrokosmos Orchestra is far from a pastoral idyll, however. While hiking or camping might offer the headspace to generate the initial spark of inspiration for a piece, it will inevitably be changed and complicated by the return to urban life.
Rick Nelson and Tim O’Dell: Performance at Makrokosmos Orchestra at ShapeShifter Lab – Friday, October 26, 2018
“I never try to emulate nature as an escape from the complexity of the modern world,” Nelson insists. “I think of my writing as being entangled in the whole mess of our lives these days. When I’m out in nature or on a camping retreat, I often experience a momentary flash that becomes the seed of a composition, but then it’s filtered through my experiences with other people, our relations to other species and the climate, and politics. All that stuff is part of the mix.”
Nelson describes his initial “flash” for the opening title track as “a vision of music that would be airy, often pointillistic, time-defying and spatially unsteady.” Over the course of its 15 minutes “Dissolve” seems to be in a constant state of melting from one state to another, from the assertive, monolithic opening statements through kaleidoscopic atmospherics and into tense, agitated moments that give way to uneasy ruminations and finally chaotic outbursts.
“Float” is just as aptly named, opening with gauzy melodies from the ethereal, gravity-defying winds. The band eventually alights on a loping groove for Nelson’s transcendent solo, before wafting away again, pursued by O’Dell’s yearning soprano. The final piece, “Cohere,” celebrates the communal nature of the ensemble with rich, lush harmonies and a dancing drums-and-bongos duel.
In his liner notes, Aardvark Jazz Orchestra founder Mark Harvey calls the Makrokosmos Orchestra “a mighty sonic dynamo [that] operates in those fertile creative spaces where contemporary jazz and classical composition and improvisation practices overlap, sparking fresh explorations of texture, compositional form, and improvisational interactions.” This striking debut is a sterling example of that arsenal of approaches, and establishes a thrilling new presence on the modern big band landscape.
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Composer/guitarist Richard Nelson has been praised by All About Jazz for the “sonic impact of [his] complex, multilayered, orchestral-scale compositions.” He is co-leader, guitarist, and a principal composer for the Makrokosmos Orchestra, a 15-player, New York-based hybrid jazz/new-music ensemble. His works have also been performed by ensembles such as ALEA III, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, and the Portland Piano Trio. Nelson has released four albums of his original compositions and arrangements as leader, exploring both large and small ensemble configurations. These include Pursuit (Richard Nelson Large Ensemble), Origin Story (Richard Nelson Quintet), Figurations (Richard Nelson Trio), and most recently Deep River (featuring the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra), which Cadence called “… an atmospheric large group setting worthy of Gil Evans” and the Boston Globe called “… a masterful suite…that merges jazz and American folk music.”
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