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Thursday, October 31, 2019

theBABAorchestra - Marigold (Thirsty Owl / Slow and Steady Records, 2019) ****½

By Bill Kautz

[Lauren] Elizabeth Baba returns with a new imagining of what theBABAorchestra can create, and how she as an orchestrator and conductor can push the group even further tonally, rhythmically, and communally.

Marigold is the latest release from composer, conductor and bandleader [Lauren] Elizabeth Baba performed by theBABAorchestra, a 17-piece experimental big band based out of Los Angeles. Marigold follows 2017’s release Another Ride on the Elephant Slide with an even stronger sense of group unity, vision and identity.

This is a 4 part continuous, unedited performance finding its origins from the immigration story of Baba’s family from Greece and Syria. Their tenacity is brought into the now by exploring one’s journey of self-discovery, inequality, immigration, and the reality that juggling all of this can lead to a breakdown. While highlighting that realness, Baba makes sure we understand that the largest theme which rises above is the indomitable pursuance of creativity. And there is nothing that is going to get in the way of the power of this sound on this record.

The album starts off with space and time in the forefront. A repetitive pitch is played by the piano and gradually spreads itself throughout the entire orchestra into the opening theme of the first movement. From there, listeners will go into a gradual escalation into powerful territory full of heavy groove, free playing and tight lines. Throughout the work, Baba holds on to themes and distributes them throughout the ensemble in multiple layers and adaptations. With this fiery melange, freedom with the ensemble and as individual players remains. Each of the 3 takes (you are hearing take 3 here) all venture into different areas with movements changing based off of how the group is making sense of them at that moment. Because of this, the group has to move together in order to survive. Much credit is due to Baba’s leadership here, but also the trust and understanding of everyone in the ensemble to immerse themselves into the music and to create something together that is bigger than themselves.
Marigold shows that [Lauren] Elizabeth Baba understands the inherent power and harmonic potential of the big band format. She honors the history of this medium while also pushing what it can do, reinforcing its relevance as a vehicle of the avant-garde and creative music.

This is music of a higher purpose. Of 18 artists’ unhinged passion and energy. Art that captures this dynamic and soul is worth experiencing, celebrating and leveraging.