Jazz Improv Volume 6, Number 1
Fall 2005

BIG OCTAVE – John Alexander, saxophones, chants; Ron Brendle, bass, chants; Chris Garges, drums, percussion

By Joshua Musselwhite

The album begins with solo tenor saxophone playing well-thought out, controlled multiphonics.  Their use is in no way trite, as they establish the mood for the events to come.  The remaining members of the group soon enter – bass and drums – with a vengeance.  The feel is dark and grave, using pedal tones in the bass and rock-oriented beats in the drums.  A hint of sanguinity dances with the melody, as it is based in major.  (Well, actually Mixolydian if you group the second phrase with it.)  But soon all feelings of sanguinity retreat, as multiphonics, growls, and modes of harmonic minor are reintroduced.  In the background can be heard the inner voices of your psyche, but distinguishingly audible, enough so as to not warrant alarm.  In fact, upon closer examination they are subtle overdubs of the group – a very slick effect, indeed.

This opening tune, “Tomorrow Never Knows” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, is an example of the group’s exploration of new and creative music.  The group does not limit themselves to conventional standards, and employ many avant-garde techniques such as the use of computer generated sounds.  Without a doubt, the piano-less/guitar-less group is influenced by Ornette Coleman’s harmolodics.  Perhaps as a tribute, they include one of his tunes, “Chronology.”  The remaining tunes are by saxophonist John Alexander, and bassist Ron Brendle.  Although the styles do change to more traditional feels, such as the swing tune, “Blue Robbin,” the approach is still adventurous.

For those seeking new and inventive jazz, Big Octave would be a great place to start.  They effectively draw influences from all walks of life, such as the Eastern-European influenced tune “New Roz” and have no problem reaching for new sounds.  If you are looking to spice up your current jazz collection, Big Octave is the one for you.