Dan Bonsanti and the 14 Jazz Orchestra - Islands

Once again, the creative genius of composer and arranger Dan Bonsanti, accompanied by the exceptional talents of The 14 Jazz Orchestra, unfurls before eager ears, delivering a mesmerizing assemblage of contemporary jazz expressions. Their freshest opus, "Islands," a treasury of eleven compositions by contemporary maestros, unveils a tapestry of influences ranging from the classic currents of straight-ahead jazz to the vibrant streams of pop and fusion.

"Islands," marks the fourth offering from the combined forces of Bonsanti and his ensemble. A trail of success traces its way through their previous opuses: the vivacious "Cartoon Bebop" (2020), the visionary "The Future Ain't What It Used to Be" (2018), and the enthralling "Nothing Hard Is Ever Easy" (2015). The perceptive ears of The Art Music Lounge extol Bonsanti's virtuosity in sculpting colors and equilibrium, his arrangements imbued with an ethereal luminance reminiscent of the harmonious melodies of an octet. Here, in "Islands," a procession of adept soloists, both regulars and distinguished guests, bestow performances that resonate with sheer brilliance.

The inception of The 14 Jazz Orchestra traces back to 2013, when the virtuoso saxophonist Bonsanti summoned a group of kindred spirits, drawn from the venerable Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. Under the banner of this orchestra, these virtuosos found an outlet for their creative wanderings, primarily traversing Bonsanti's sonic landscapes. The echoes of their performances resounded with exuberant applause, prompting the formal christening of the ensemble as The 14 Jazz Orchestra.

As time wove its course, the members of the orchestra dispersed across the nation, yet geographical distances failed to dampen their artistic fervor. Facilitated by the pianistic, compositional, and engineering prowess of the exceptional Mike Levine, remote recording sessions forged an unbreakable bond between the musicians on "Islands," yielding tracks that seamlessly intertwine as if conceived within a single harmonious studio.

Bonsanti also extended invitations to several special guests including Randy Bernsen on guitar, Mark Egan and Will Lee on electric bass, Peter Erskine on drums, David Liebman on soprano sax, and Mike Mainieri on vibes. Continuing this impressive lineup of musicians, the core group includes Ed Maina on alto sax and flutes, Ed Calle on tenor and soprano sax and flutes, Peter Brewer on tenor sax, flute, and clarinet, Mike Brignola on baritone sax, flutes, and bass clarinet, and a host of other talented instrumentalists.

Initiating the sonic voyage, Bonsanti unfurls the canvas with McCoy Tyner's "The Man from Tanganyika," a tribute steeped in history. The threads of inspiration intertwine as Bonsanti encountered Vince Maggio's arrangement while harmonizing within his Bakers Dozen ensemble. A luminary in Bonsanti's world, Maggio's presence was a beacon of shared musical camaraderie, a source of traditional jazz wisdom. The composition "Islands," an emblem of originality, bears the imprints of Mike Mainieri, whose vibraphonic enchantments grace the tapestry. A legendary percussionist, Peter Erskine, propels the rhythmic heart of this auditory archipelago.

Guided by the spirit of Chick Corea, Bonsanti discovers the elegiac strains of "Bud Powell," a vessel for spirited solos, helmed by the triumvirate of Ed Maina, Jason Carder, and Mike Levine. A playfully innovative spirit infiltrates "Part of Me," a whimsical reincarnation of the classic "All of Me." Beneath the aegis of Levine's creative touch, a novel melodic tapestry emerges, shared in arrangement credits with Bonsanti.

"Carmencita," a testament to love's enduring muse, springs forth from Levine's wellspring of creativity, an eponymous offering to his beloved Carmen. Originally birthed within the confines of smooth jazz, the composition's magnetic pull toward the straight-ahead led to an orchestral metamorphosis, borne from the collaborative prowess of Bonsanti and Levine. "Missouri Uncompromised," a chapter borrowed from the legacy of Pat Metheny, finds new life under Bonsanti's orchestrative mastery, with Manieri, Egan, and Levine wielding their musical brushes.

A poignant tribute to Vince Maggio, the "Jitterbug Waltz," originally cherished within the trio realm, exudes Bonsanti's emotive prowess, shared arrangement credits with Levine. Levine's "Jaco," an ode to the electric bass virtuoso, conjures an ambiance akin to its smooth jazz origins. "Some Other Time," a ballad of profound resonance for Bonsanti, channels the spirits of Bill Evans and Gil Evans, intertwining lessons learned from their ethereal cadences.

In a serendipitous encounter in the late '70s, the strains of David Liebman's "Loft Dance" graced the University of Miami. From this juncture, a vibrant transformation ensues, guided by Bonsanti's deft hands, fusing elements from Liebman's mentor Tom Baras' arrangement into a kaleidoscope of sound. Liebman himself adds his soulful voice to this sonic narrative. "When She Loved Me," a dedication to Neal Bonsanti, honors the memory through Randy Newman's "Toy Story 2" creation. As fate weaves its threads, Bonsanti's reimagining swells with the tenor sax's emotive cries, the fretless bass's resounding pulse, and the rhythmic heartbeat of drums.

"Islands" emerges as another chapter in the captivating odyssey of Dan Bonsanti and the luminous constellation of artists that constitute the 14 Jazz Orchestra. With each artistic endeavor, Bonsanti's orchestrations transcend genre, imbuing the auditory canvas with hues as vivid as the artist's imagination. The allure of "Islands" lies in its vibrant harmonies, a testament to Bonsanti's artistic creativity in crafting sonic tapestries as rich and varied as the world of jazz itself.

Released July 21, 2023.


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CD and Digital Download, Also available on Streamings Services.



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