With his third disc, The Star Chamber, Los Angeles-based composer Andrew Durkin continues to combine the improvisational swing of jazz with carefully constructed pieces that contain some of the feel of modern classical music. As I noted in a review of City of Angles (2002), his previous disc with the Industrial Jazz Group, Durkins music shows a wide variety of influences, but he synthesizes them into something wholly his own. Frank Zappas instrumental work is obvious inspiration, but Durkin demonstrates his affinity for Zappa in the same way Mingus did for Ellington -- as a source, a tradition he respects but obviously wants to expand upon.
Durkin wrote and arranged the selections on The Star Chamber for a nonet, a larger ensemble than he used on the IJGs two other discs. The larger canvas allows him to use more complex and layered musical effects and adds to the sheer power of the arrangements. The Star Chamber is more unsettling in some ways than Durkins previous work. Theres more dissonance here and one does not need to share Durkins politics (suggested in such titles as "Mamas, Dont Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboy-Presidents") to realize hes captured something of the moral confusion of living in this moment in history.
At the same time, theres plenty of hope, swing, and pure love of melody in The Star Chamber. Durkin allows room for the other musicians to shine, especially Evan Francis and Cory Wright on reeds and Kris Tiner on trumpet. The recording is entirely listenable, but a little flat, and I would have sequenced the disc differently to improve its pace. These are small issues considering the complexity and strength of this new entry in a career that continues to bear watching.
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