Like haggis, a Scottish delicacy made by stuffing a sheep's stomach with oatmeal and suet, Scottish composer-arranger Tom Bancroft's Pieology may well be an acquired taste. Bancroft's orchestra, which has been in existence for more than six years, performs the leader's compositions with aplomb while featuring the best of the new wave of Scottish jazz musicians as well as some ringers from England and Holland.
A mixture of live and studio recordings, Pieology captures the breadth of Bancroft's compositional influences, which range from haunting, folk-tinged melodies ("Scottish Heart") to an Ellingtonian use of colors and extended forms ("Cat 'n Mouse," which was inspired by Duke's "Cottontail") to some chaotic musical anarchy reminiscent of John Zorn on the title track, which celebrates tenor saxophonist (and Tom's brother) Phil Brancroft's propensity for eating large quantities of pie during his younger years.
Listeners who are expecting a rehash of Swing Era standards or typical big-band fare will be disappointed with Pieology. Bancroft, who also cites Charles Mingus, Carla Bley, Henry Threadgill, and Sun Ra as influences, really pushes the envelope with his writing. "Coal and Logs," for example, is an extended composition in which the development of the melody supersedes any solo contributions; while Ennio Morricone's "The Battle of Algiers," the only non-Bancroft composition on the CD, goes in the other direction by featuring trumpeters Eddie Severn and Claude Deppa on trumpet solos and a booming improvisation from tubaist Oren Marshall.
The suite "The Piano Is A Dark Horse" and the more accessible "Sleepy Head" should please jazz fans with advanced listening skills who are fond of dissonance and cacophony in the mix. The ensemble playing on these and the other tracks is top-notch, as are the solos. Tenor saxophonist Phil Bancroft is particularly impressive in his improvisations, and the other solosists are up to snuff as well.