Review: Leap of Faith Orchestra – Possible Universes

A beautiful gong begins the proceedings of Possible Universes creating the right mood for the improvisations. A solo violinist is playing away like mad, while rumbles from small percussion instruments: bells, wood blocks, and more, pepper the floor, making it difficult to get through this impassable field. This recording uses the full Leap of Faith Orchestra (LOFO). It has a multitude of musicians participating on this recording. This live performance was done on May 28, 2017, at the Somerville Armory. One day, I must get up to Cambridge and see this version of the LOFO in person or catch them live if they come to New York City. The full orchestra launches into a series of musical legato slurs that overtake the orchestra like a mutating virus, infecting bodily systems and internal organs along the way. This has the effect of producing screaming roars from the horns and other sections in the orchestra. I find myself thinking of the classical composer, Charles Ives.

With so much passion being displayed, I wonder how the audience must be reacting to hearing this body of polyphonics. This is the freest I’ve heard this orchestra. The music is very wild, off key, and feels like it’s operating more on pulse than traditional tempos. The feeling is very free from six minutes on, until, the gong reenters and shuts down this group improvisation; not permanently, but for this new section. The music ranges from low basses to piano explorations at the moment. The gong ends this section of loud dynamics. I thought this was over, but more loud sounds return briefly before entering a section of unintelligible vocals from the members of the orchestra. It sounds like they’re humming randomly. I once saw Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention do this at a show when they performed in Boston. The audience, however did not appreciate it and they began to leave the venue en mass!

The next portion of this composition, features crescendos, from horns, saxophones, and low rumblings from the bass section. I’m hearing the tuba also joining in the fray. Some of the sections are playing atonal lines, while others are improvising in between staccato lines. The driving drum rhythms from the percussion section is pushing the orchestra to another strata; a new plateau for more explorations. David Peck really knows how to utilize his musicians.  One has to have a vision for having such a large orchestra. Some of what’s being played tears a page from traditional classical music while the rest of the material is highly experimental in nature. One of the guitar players is establishing melodic lines while the rest of the orchestra is trying to maintain its sanity. A lot of moving parts are in motion which makes the music fertile ground for even more new ideas. The tuba joins the bass section as they contribute melancholic lines that support the mayhem on top. This is the root and foundation for the orchestra, allowing it to continue to move and explore new vistas at will.

At the nineteen minute mark, the orchestra gradually starts to build tension which reaches a peak for everyone at the 22 minute mark. The in and out lines, continue to lead the orchestra, higher and higher. There is so much passion being displayed, this is something I haven’t heard from them in previous recordings.

A solo horn generates another melancholic line which signals the gong strike. The marimba takes precedence during this section followed by several more gong strikes. The gongs are useful as a section indicator and for generating tension within this musical coda. It continues to vibrate, until the sound fades into nothingness. This leads to a percussionist playing one of  my favorite instrument, the chimes. The bell-like quality of this instrument, evokes images of the church. The music seems like a track from an old science fiction movie from the fifties. With wavering notes from the vibes, the tones lingers at length. The timpani follows, bringing a war-like cry in the midst of peaceful surroundings. These sounds are very aggressive. A guitar player decides to solo over this layer of polyphonics. The rising tension is off the scale as the orchestra launches into orbit. The tension builds and builds until the gong once again signals a new section. This time, the upright bass players take their solos, all of them together.

I can hear someone talking about the music, however, the conversation is very brief. We are at the 30 minute mark. The drummer on the drum-kit enters the fray and begins free jazz drumming. Suddenly everyone leaving just the drummer and one trumpet player. I’m hearing drumming ideas I use, playing rim shots on the toms which enters African drumming mode. The piano joins this interlude along with the timpani. Underneath, the timpanist, uses a high note on the timpani while varying the pitch of the sound via the pedal. Gradually, the rest of the orchestra joins in. I would say about half the orchestra is improvising within this section. As we near the forty minute mark, the trumpet and horns are soloing. The gong signals the next part. I can hear the drummer playing alone, and within moments, the rest of the orchestra joins him.

While much can be said about this recording, it’s been a while since I’ve heard an ensemble of this size, with so many players, that were in the zone: the magical zone, where a musician or artist can do no wrong.  I’ve only seen the smaller version of the Leap of Orchestra, but what’s on this CD is pure TNT – nitroglycerin! On this night, the orchestra is playing as one, generating wave after wave of highly energetic polyphonics. It’s so organized even when it’s disorganized within the parameters set by the leader, David Peck. This is the most formidable output I’ve heard from this unit. It is truly remarkable to hear how the musicians are in sync with each other.  Do pick up your copy of Possible Universes pronto at the nearest record store, or order it online. If you haven’t heard any of the previous CDs by the Leap of Orchestra, I highly recommend this recording, as a place to start!

Track Listing:

  1. Possible Universes 01:17:12; 2. Possible Worlds (download bonus track) 20:26 – Somerville Armory – 28 May 2017

Personnel:

PEK (David Peck) – saxophones, clarinets, double reeds (1,2); Glynis Lomon – cello, aquasonic, voice (1,2); Yuri Zbitnov – drums, percussion (1,2); Andria Nicodemou – vibes, percussion (1,2); Mimi Rabson – violin (1,2); Matt Scutchfield – violin (1); Jonathan LaMaster – violin (1); Dan O’Brien – flutes, clarinets, saxophones (1); Zach Bartolomei – clarinets, saxophones, melodica (1); Bob Moores – trumpet (1); Steve Provizer – trumpet, baritone horn (1); Forbes Graham – trumpet (1); Kat Dobbins – trombone (1); Dave Harris – trombone, tuba (1); John Baylies – tuba (1); Eric Zinman – piano (1); Grant Beale – guitar (1); Chris Florio – guitar synth (1); Tony Leva – bass (1,2); Silvain Castellano – bass (1); Kit Demos – bass (1); Syd Smart – drums, percussion (1,2); Kevin Dacey – drums, percussion (1); Joe Hartigan – drums, percussion (1)

Ensemble Auxiliary Instruments:

Bullroarers, claves, melodicas, flex-a-tones, slide whistles, wind sirens, crank sirens, bells, Tibetan bowls, rachets, tube-o-phone

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