Originally recorded in '96, years before
Mike Holober's début small group recording
Canyon (Sons of Sound, '03), Thought
Trains is only now seeing the light of day, but it
continues to assert the pianist/composer/arranger
as a dominant new force on the New York scene.
And while the larger ensemble context of Thought
Trains limits the amount of spontaneous interplay
that was prevalent on Canyon, it makes up for
that kind of unrestrained exploration with
sharp arrangements that make full use of his
eighteen-piece Gotham Jazz Orchestra.
With a wide range of instrumental doubling,
tripling and, in some case, quadrupling, Holober
is able to paint with an extremely broad palette.
From the more straightforward saxophone and
trumpet section of the bright traditional piece “Jump
Down, Spin Around” and the equally vivacious
funk of “Big Sky,” which features
an outstanding solo from guitarist Dave Gilmore
blending a strong sense of bebop and more contemporary
blues, to the lighter use of oboe and French
Horn on the more contemplative “Form
x Mood,” the closest precedent to Holober
is in the larger orchestral works of composer/arranger
Vince Mendoza. But where Mendoza often works
around patterns that originate in computer
sequences, Holober's approach is more organic,
without losing any of its modernity and verve.
The strength of Holober's
charts is evident in the level of musicianship. Players including
legendary bassist Ron Carter; saxophonist Tim
Ries, both a busy session man and leader in
his own right; trumpeters Scott Wendholt and
Tony Kadleck and saxophonist Charles Pillow,
significant members of both the Maria Schneider
Orchestra and/or the Village Vanguard Orchestra,
all asked to participate if Holober ever had
the opportunity to record these compositions.
And the level of commitment shows in the playing.
Ries may be best known as the saxophonist for
the Rolling Stones, but here he's as committed
and swinging as the best of them, with his
solo on the title track demonstrating a player
who is lyrical yet unpredictable. Carter's
solo feature on “Waltz Medium” is
filled with the deep groove and unexpected
turns that have defined his career.
Holober combines his horns and woodwinds
in ways that are bright but never brash. The
press release refers to how “…challenging
charts appeal to the best musicians; melodic,
swinging tunes attract and sustain an audience.” There's
no question that Holober's lively charts, which
manage to incorporate unique twists and turns
without losing their innate sense of swing,
are demanding of the players while remaining
completely approachable by listeners.
And, while the record is more a forum for
Holober's fine compositional and arranging
skills, there's still plenty of space for his
fine piano work, a strong blend of the Evans,
Jarrett and Jamal schools. Thought Trains may
have taken eight years to finally get released,
but it's a timeless record, sounding as contemporary
today as it did when it was first committed
to tape. And as a companion piece to Canyon,
it demonstrates just how broad Holober's musical
reach truly is.
— John Kelman