Douglas Detrick's AnyWhen Ensemble: The Bright and Rushing World
Any discussion of the approach Douglas Detrick's AnyWhen Ensemble brings to The Bright and Rushing World will also likely reference Gunther Schuller and his Third Stream concept, with the album clearly showing that jazz-styled improvisation and formal chamber composition can be successfully merged. Commissioned by Chamber Music America, the ten-movement suite is brought vividly to life by composer-trumpeter Detrick, saxophonist Hashem Assadullahi, cellist Shirley Hunt, bassoonist Steve Vacchi, and drummer Ryan Biesack. It's interesting that many previous attempts at effecting a chamber-jazz fusion have involved ensembles of large scale; Detrick's outfit, by comparison, benefits considerably from the built-in flexibility a small group affords. And yet, despite its modest size, the AnyWhen Ensemble plays with the kind of polyphonic richness characteristic of a large ensemble.
A major part of the listening pleasure provided by The Bright and Rushing World stems from witnessing the fluidity with which the quintet moves between classical and jazz worlds. But even characterizing the group's playing in this way risks misrepresenting the music as it's rarely one or the other but instead a hybrid that might slightly lean in the direction of the one before leaning in the opposite direction seconds later. Players of consummate skill are required to be able to play in such an adaptable way, and Detrick appears to have found them. Obviously the instrumentation alone suggests the hybrid concept at work, given the bassoon and cello's classical connection and the link to jazz provided by the trumpet, sax, and drums.
Not surprisingly, all five players bring extensive experience to the project. Portland, Oregon resident Detrick is a graduate of the University of Oregon and Lawrence University, while the NYC-based Assadullahi leads a sextet (featuring trumpeter Ron Miles) that has recorded two albums of its own, Strange Neighbor and Pieces. Vacchi is a bassoon professor at the University of Oregon, Biesack currently teaches music at both Willamette University and Oregon State University, and Hunt also plays in the baroque cello duo Bradamante as well as Sonnambula, a consort of viols based in New York City. Given such backgrounds, it seems only natural that AnyWhen Ensemble would have performed at both the Rubin Museum of Art and The Stone, as well as given master classes at academic locales such as the Cornish College of the Arts and University of Oregon.
There's much to admire about the sixty-four-minute recording: the graceful ease with which the players execute solo passages and then reintegrate themselves into the group; the balance Detrick strikes in his writing and arrangements between structure and open-endedness; the patience and confidence shown by the musicians as they breathe the material into being; the occasional forays into freer jazz expression; and the sonorous satisfaction that comes from simply hearing each individual's instrument presented with such clarity. Plenty of Detrick's oft-muted trumpet playing is included, but the presentation is conducted democratically with all five granted ample solo space. The musicians rarely sound like anyone but themselves, though there is one passage during “A Question So Weightless It Floats Away” that sees the high-pitched wail of Assadullahi's soprano evoking Wayne Shorter with Biesack backing him like an exuberantly expressive Peter Erskine. Selected recordings by Duke Ellington and Gil Evans might be cited as precursors to The Bright and Rushing World, notwithstanding the difference in size between their orchestra-sized groups and Detrick's. To his credit, the all-acoustic The Bright and Rushing World never sounds derivative or old fashioned but instead fresh and innovative.