Russ Flynn Large Ensemble: Concert Review
The Russ Flynn Large Ensemble, presenting Flynn’s take on contemporary jazz ensemble music, played what felt like an outdoor concert Sunday, December 5. The band, and its hat- and scarf-wearing audience, sat in the upstairs space at the Brooklyn Lyceum due to the Lyceum double-booking the date. But, despite the problems, all were in good spirits, and Flynn’s music was rewarding.
The group is a hybrid ensemble: The brass section of tuba, horn, trombones and trumpets and the woodwind section often featuring clarinet and flute and always bass clarinet, gave the group a more orchestral sound, but the rhythm section of electric bass, electric guitar with a heavy use of effects, electric piano and drums, is much more rock-oriented. The combination is a good one, and Flynn’s writing wisely exploits the interplay between spontaneous jazz improvisation and powerful orchestral statements from the winds.
The rhythm section played energetically and expressively and was the perfect foil to the classical-leaning winds: all are talented players with good ears for giving shape to Flynn’s inventive grooves without overshadowing the winds. Danny Wolf’s drumming was a particular highlight.
One downside to the night, besides many frozen toes, was that the bass and guitar were generally too loud, and sometimes overpowered the winds, spoiling the effect of powerful ensemble passages. However, the cold in the room was probably very problematic for the wind players, and probably not a common feature of this band’s playing.
Flynn’s style is stripped-down and emotionally direct. His pieces often assign important melodic statements to a single wind player, with rest of the winds and the rhythm section commenting, often in call and response. In this setting, the soloist is a lyrical voice playing a role in a story. Flynn lays these stories out beautifully and the arc of each piece was always compelling. This band is highly recommended. Look out for them in New York’s creative music scene.