Perhaps the best part of listening to Horizon Art Orchestra‘s Live at the Bird is imagining one’s self in the audience. One hears the small appreciative crowd between songs and wishes one were among them. The glad exuberance of this fifteen-piece Perth ensemble is contagious, leading heads to nod, feet to tap, and fingers to snap. That’s jazz, man.
“Now I’ve Told You” is the winner of the bunch, a big band entry with multiple showcases: snazzy trumpet, groovy bass, rapidfire percussion and instinctive team play. Horizon Art Orchestra graciously invites each of its players to spend time in the sun; as the solos begin to unfold, the audience expresses its appreciation. Mancini would be proud.
Things slow down a bit for “Dick Francis”, named after the British steeplechase jockey who became a bestselling crime author. The pace starts as slowly as the instruments are led from their stalls. Just as the piece seems about to break into a trot, it stops, ceding space to a lovely piano solo. Perhaps this segment is meant to reflect Francis’ mid-career shift. The snare adopts a marching band tempo and timbre, mimicking the tension of a crime novel; then an explosion of brass, like the commission of a crime. The piano takes over again at the conclusion, capping a well-composed piece. Suspense scores may be in this band’s future. Then it’s back to the groove for “Navarac” (Google Question: Is Perth’s Navarac repair service where these guys work when they’re not performing?), slow and smoky for “Eyes” and midtempo for the concluding “Not P.W.” This final selection is relaxed and mature, surprisingly so for performers so young; a mid-piece solo draws comparison to Chuck Mangione.
Live at the Bird is a sweet introduction to these smart and playful musicians. The album lacks only a Big Finale; when the disc ends, it’s a bit surprising and all-too-soon. We’re guessing these were the highlights of the set, because there’s no way the orchestra played for only half an hour. A longer album may soon be on the way; in the meantime, try to catch the band live. (Richard Allen)