Review : Leap Of Faith Orchestra – The Expanding Universe

Leap of Faith Orchestra ‐ The Expanding Universe

Recorded at Nave Gallery, Clarendon Presbyterian Church Somerville, MA – 6/4/2016

The Expanding Universe by The Leap of Faith Orchestra, is one of several groups led by Dave Peck. In his own words, here’s how he describes these projects:

“I have had an improvisation ensemble called Leap of Faith with cellist, Glynis Lomon and a variety of other folks since the mid-90s. During the 00s and until 2014, I took a long break while my day-gig interfered with my ability to do music on my terms. Since reforming Leap of Faith in January 2015, I have substantially expanded the group to the Leap of Faith Orchestra. LOFO is comprised of 5 sub-units that can play independently or in combination. Any two or more of these units together are the LOFO.” — Dave Peck

The units are:

  • Leap of Faith (LOF)
  • Metal Chaos Ensemble (MCE) – the expanded percussion ensemble
  • Turbulence (T) – the expanded horn section
  • String Theory (ST) – the expanded string section
  • New Language Collaborative (NLC) – Glynis’ trio with pianist Eric Zinman and drummer Syd Smart

“I also have another brand new unit, Mekaniks, which emphasizes the electronics including samples and altered samples from the Evil Clown catalog driven by a laptop. The full orchestra (with all 5 sub-units) had its first performance on June 4, where we played my composition, The Expanding Universe. The composition does not specify notated melodic or rhythmic information, just durations (by time indices) and English language descriptions of the overall sonority desired. This allows me to plan very detailed compositional events without the need for extended rehearsal. To prepare for this concert we did lots of sessions and performances with each of the sub-units and with each of the other sub-units combined with core Leap of Faith.” — Dave Peck

As for the music, it will strike some as shades of experimental or modern classical. The opening gong rings of Dark Matter are an omen of things to come. There are multiple instruments simultaneously assaulting the senses. I’m hearing someone swinging a twirling tube, one of my favorite devices that I use at my live shows. The sounds of vibes, bells, piano and more are coming at the listener unexpectedly with a specific purpose. Dave Peck carefully selects each instrument for maximum effect!

As the music proceeds, the overall timbre takes on shades of Sun Ra & His Arkestra’s outer space explorations. This territory is familiar to most listeners of free jazz. After the six-minute mark, the music starts to percolate, moving the music into a much freer space. The orchestra reaches a peak around eight minutes and the sounds that follow are reminiscent of Tibetan music. If you’ve heard a CD or vinyl recording of Tibetan recordings, you will recognize the tonality immediately. Dave Peck skillfully directs the horns over this gentle mayhem, thus creating a series of polyphonic tone layers. With all of these sounds in motion, it’s fairly easy to get lost on this trail of sonic pulses.

Even with such a large body of mass abstract poly-phonics, there is an order to the chaos within the music. From eleven minutes on, the piano players push the group in the direction of Cecil Taylor. There are multiple influences within this body of sounds. The interplay between the piano and the bass is interesting. Without the drums playing, the space is left open for these instrumentalists to explore the music at length. The music is able to fully breathe. The layer of density between the horns and the percussion section is what John Coltrane called on one of his albums, “Cosmic Music.” The music is very out there in every sense of the word. Each individual member contributes to this open cosmic space with shades of Charles Ives thrown in for good measure. The tuba lines really bring out this quality around the twenty-two minute mark. The lines creep in gradually making its presence felt throughout the entire orchestra. It isn’t until the twenty-four minute mark, the lines becomes dominant within the mild chaos, while the trumpet lead acts like a hang glider, soaring over the musical landscape.

As Dave Peck explained earlier, “The composition does not specify notated melodic or rhythmic information, just durations (by time indices) and English language descriptions of the overall sonority desired.”

The melodic lines aren’t the traditional melodic lines one would expect. Instead, we have a highly experimental approach applied to this orchestra on a very large scale, given the number of musicians on this recording. The lines intersect, as well as go off in divergent directions. There is very unusual counterpoint lines employed throughout this lengthy piece. The drums rumble in the background intensifying the mood. I must add, the drumming was consistently outstanding throughout this hour plus performance. The music continues to ebb and flow, while the piano player again evokes the approach of Cecil Taylor. While this section started off slowly, it gradually builds like water starting to boil. It doesn’t quite reach such a fevered pitch of 212 degrees Fahrenheit. The intensity remains silently hidden, but very much felt. Next up, is the string section. The upright bass stands out for the most part, however, the strings are active during this part, along with an occasional horn player soloing here and there.

The music is partly improvised and written? At times, it’s hard to tell where the improvisation ends and where the written notation begins. It’s such a blur of different dynamics at work. The music takes on the quality of a cosmic soup. This makes the Leap of Faith Orchestra stand out from most jazz ensembles. What Dave Peck has put together must be quite an experience to see and hear at the live shows.

At the one hour mark, the music gets even more experimental. The orchestra ventures into electronic music in the science fiction sense of the word. The electronics draw from sounds heard in science fiction films from the fifties. This is followed by more exploratory output from members of the orchestra. The piano player takes over and does a short captivating solo. It’s always very engaging when these piano sounds are brought to the front and center. The Leap of Faith Orchestra tends to lay low supporting the space during this musical interlude. The orchestra is now coming into the home stretch, nearing the end of this performance.

If you’re not familiar with the music of Dave Peck, do pick up a copy of this CD and his many other recordings. I believe he has one of the most adventurous orchestral ensembles in free jazz.

–Marc Edwards, January 9, 2016

Track List

1) Leap of Faith – Dark Matter  – 20:18 (download bonus track)

  • PEK – tenor sax, clarinet, alto & contra alto clarinets, contrabassoon,          dulzaina, sheng, metal, daxophone, aquasonic, game calls
  • Glynis Lomon – cello, aquasonic, voice
  • Steve Norton – sopranino & alto & baritone saxes, bass & Contraalto clarinets
  • Andria Nicodemou – vibes, bells, crotales, metal
  • Yuri Zbitnov – drums, metal, chains

2) Leap of Faith Orchestra – The Expanding Universe  1:16:57

  • PEK – dulzaina, sopranino & alto & tenor saxes, oboe, clarinet, contra alto clarinet, sheng, bass tromboon, fog horn, ms-20, boomwhakers, slide whistles, siren whistle
  • Glynis Lomon – cello, aquasonic, voice, slide whistle
  • Steve Norton – sopranino & alto & baritone saxes, bass & contra alto clarinets, celeste, fog horn, boomwhakers
  • Andria Nicodemou – vibes, bells, crotales, slide whistle
  • Yuri Zbitnov – drum set, lead gong, metal, balfon, blocks, festival drum, daiko, chains, siren whistle, boomwhakers, percussion
  • Mimi Rabson – violin, metal, slide whistle, siren whistle, percussion
  • Clara Kebabian – violin, electronics, slide whistle, siren whistle, percussion
  • Bob Moores – trumpet, electronics, tiny slide whistle, percussion
  • Charlie Kohlhase – alto & tenor & baritone saxes, slide whistle, percussion
  • Dave Harris – tuba, trombone, fog horn, crank siren, slide whistle, boomwhaker
  • Peter Cassino – piano, slide whistle
  • Tony Leva – bass, slide whistle
  • Brendan Higgins – bass, slide whistle
  • Yedidyah Syd Smart – edrums, percussion
  • Kevin Dacey – drum set, balfon, blocks, metal, chains, percussion, crank siren, taxi horn