HUNTINGTON BEACH — Offering sumptuous blends of brass and reeds, angular melodies, pop-sounding passages and unexpected sounds that all but snuck up from behind, Kim Richmond put his musical mind on display when he led his 21-piece jazz orchestra Wednesday at El Matador.
One might expect an ensemble that has a French horn, tuba, four trombones and five saxes--together with five trumpets and a five-member rhythm section--to wallow in its darker-toned areas and sort of lumber along.
But to the credit of the leader, who could be identified with the quadruple hyphenate "composer-arranger-orchestrator-saxophonist," the band instead floated and flew, as Richmond consistently came up with instrumental combinations that created a sense of lightness and buoyancy.
Typical of the leader's crafty ear was the medium-tempo "Melon Bells," commissioned by Orange Coast College and dedicated to drummers Mel Lewis and Louis Bellson.
A burst of high brass led to a repeated rhythmic line shared by the bass and baritone saxophone. Next came the melody, delivered by soprano and tenor saxes and trumpets--all underpinned by a fat cloud of low-brass tones.
The tune was written to spotlight the drum chair, and the subsequent passage featured drummer Ralph Razze, who traded off with the ensemble. The band played a brief idea, say a beat or two or three, after which Razze would offer an equally short, snappy drum break. Then tenor saxophonist Glen Berger and trumpeter Ron King took spirited solos.
Richmond's version of "My Funny Valentine," a solo feature for the leader and announced as bearing a Gil Evans influence, was another example of his ability to blend orchestral colors with an ethereal result.
For the introduction, Richmond pitted dusky muted trombones against the brightness of flutes and slightly darker fluegelhorns, and then, behind his resonant-toned alto sax, added tuba and more low trombones to this already-exotic mixture.
The piece climaxed when a full ensemble passage, with everyone playing at full roar, filled the stage with a wall of brilliant sound, reminding a listener of Evans' work behind Miles Davis on the classic "Sketches of Spain."
The leader has a propensity for the experimental, which his view of trumpeter Davis' "Nardis" clearly demonstrated.
Here the melody was played very slowly, and dissonantly, by the ensemble. Meanwhile the rhythm section soared along, playing a triple meter (like a fast waltz), against the quadruple meter (like a slow blues) that the band was delivering.
This complex rhythmic feel was replaced at the outset of solos by trumpeter Dave Scott and guitarist Tom Hynes by a completely free-form pulse, but eventually the original, obtuse pattern returned.
The lengthy "Brain Trouble" highlighted Latin elements and included a dandy repeating montuna section featuring Brian Kilgore's crisp bongo whaps and a gritty trombone solo by George McMullen, all anchored by Trey Henry's bass and Sydney Lehman's visceral piano.
Among the other high points were Rob Verdi's warm-toned yet charged tenor solo on the modal-ish "Spritely Overdo," where trombonist Joey Sellers and trumpeter Jeff Bunnell also shone; and "Franz," where a pop-ish marching drum beat created a distinctive flavor.
The band played Richmond's demanding material all but flawlessly. In fact, the evening's only drawback was the unruliness of the patrons at the El Matador bar adjacent to the stage. They got so loud that at one point, during a Henry bass solo, a female listener admonished them to "Hush up!"