At first glance the pairing of David Bloom (founder and director of the 30-year old Bloom School of Jazz in Chicago) with Cliff Colnot (principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s contemporary Music NOW series and resident conductor of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago) would seem haphazard at best. With this disc in hand, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Together they have created a set of nine compositions, which because of their scope and intricate inter-workings are truly compositions and not tunes or pieces. This music reminds listeners of when jazz was built on the backs of composers and arrangers who worked with fine degrees of instrumental timbre and not drum machines, demos or synth patches.
Four of the compositions are by Bloom with the other five co-composed by Bloom and Colnot. The strength of the recording is, however, Colnot’s arranging - yet even though he’s listed as the sole arranger one would find it difficult to believe there wasn’t a lot of discussion between the two as to the direction the arrangements should take.
Reminiscent of the sessions that combined created what we today call The Birth of the Cool (BOTC), the music here is also molded to the credo Miles Davis, Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan aspired to then: creation of music where the solos and ensemble are interwoven, where music is meant to be subtle and not smash-mouth, with no emphasis placed on singable melodies drilled into the listener through lots of repetition and easy hooks, where music is textured with a great number of individual colors, careful use of dissonance and jagged movement enhance and not detract from the compositions, where there are no long solos so emphasis must be placed on soloists being tight with their ideas, by the use of broken rhythms from which lead lines emerge and the whole group working to create an overall feeling of relaxation. This the music on Duende has in spades.
Every cut is a winner, but a few examples should provided ample proof of the disc’s value. The composition Duende features solos by former Maynard Ferguson trombonist Tom Garling and former Gloria Estefan & The Miami Sound Machine keyboardist Jim Trompeter in an uptempo swing that exemplifies all of the qualities BOTC aspired to. Here, as in all the compositions, the real star is the arrangement itself and not the soloists. This is done in the way the solos come out of the textured whole instead of springing on the scene when the arranger doesn’t know what else to write. The solos are justly the logical growth of the chart and not implanted in order to create length.
Some of the compositions, such as Drum Thing and Mirror, don’t have solos. These compositions follow the same mantra as Thad Jones’ A Child Is Born - mood is the thing. Both Drum Thing and Mirror are clean, spare yet involved and complex; truly masterpieces in their own right.
The revolving cast of musicians (working in groups from five to 12) include a number of fine performers including smooth jazz pianist and beautiful trombone stylist Brian Culbertson, whose trombone shines on Mirror, and Chicago trumpeter/flugelhornist Rob Parton, whose silky tone is almost too rich to be believed.
This music sums up Bloom’s feelings as quoted in an allaboutjazz.com article, "If you’re not in for the exposure of your feelings then you’re in the wrong business." It’s too bad Duende isn’t on a major label because this is the kind of music that will inspire tomorrow’s musicians better than any prepackaged, hook-oriented, beat-you-over-the-head-drivel that passes for so much of what airs today. If you want to remember when jazz was thoughtful then you must listen here, you will be well rewarded.