Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Flat Earth Society - Isms (2004)

Flat Earth Society are a Belgian band that play progressive big band music. This is their first American release, a compilation of their earlier work issued on Mike Patton's Ipecac label, so it's got some credibility right there.

Now I know what your thinking: "What the heck is progressive big band music?" Well imagine a forties big band that has grown sick and tired of playing pop standards and dance tunes and instead decides to focus on something completely different, which in this case means almost anything but what you'd expect. The tracks on this record run the gamut from sleazy spy movie soundtrack to atonal walls of horns to slow motion New Orleans funeral jazz, to marching band music from Hell. If it sounds chaotic, that's because it is, although the band is very tight considering its rather cumbersome size.

As with most compilations, this one feels a bit disjointed. The tracks are mostly quite short (seven of them are less than a minute in length), and so many styles of music are represented that it has a tendency to sound schizophrenic, although this may have been the band's intent. Personally, I prefer the low key pieces that sound like they belong in a ham-fisted film noir flick best, and while some of the free jazz caterwauling can be fun, it becomes tedious after a while. One particular track that stands out as a highlight is "(Little) King Ink," a Louis Armstrong cover that breaks the pattern of short pieces, clocking in at eight and a half minutes. This is also one of the only tracks that features a vocalist, and the singer's gravely, Belgian-accented delivery is unique and exciting.

It's nice to see someone bringing big band music into the 21st century. It's a style that has too long been out of fashion, and a group of Flat Earth Society's creativity is certainly a good choice to lead the way. In any case, fans of slightly adventurous jazz will find much to appreciate here.

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