Big Brooklyn – Purpose (2018)

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Big Brooklyn is a band which came about as a result of a passion and drive to play and share jazz / klezmer / groove music. They formed in 2014 when drummer Willie Dornfield (Mike Marlier, Paul Romaine, John Kinzie, Trump Mother Jones), and clarinet player Melody Dornfield (Lynn Baker, Lamont Symphony Orchestra), started working together to create pieces which gave shape to music they love.

Whilst Willie came from a jazz and rock and Melody’s training was classical, this proved a perfect combination as both felt a providential soul-connection with the beauty of the exultation and pathos in the sound of klezmer music. They were joined by tenor sax player Luke Soasey (John Gross, Rob Scheps, Charley Gray, Darrell Grant, Allan Jones, Bob Mover, David Valdez, David Friesen, Stefon Harris), Jo Asker on bass (Erik Bowen Trio, Twirling Zucchini Trio, Mood Elevators, Modern Art Duo and more), and Aaron Summerfield on guitar. Briefly, they were called the Watchill but soon became Big Brooklyn.

Purpose, their first album, is out now as they believe time is right to share this music with a wider audience – and this reviewer would agree with that.

“This group and music didn’t come together out of any formula, per se. It is just music that we love playing,” Willie Dornfield told me. “When we began writing what we love, the resulting music you hear is what emerged. We have so many strong influences, yet we didn’t want to feel bound to reside in a particular genre. We knew that whatever we did had to be all out, passionate, genuine. We are not afraid to push the boundaries of time and tonality, but also love to rest within a pocket and the simplicity of a beautiful melody. Big Brooklyn is a journey through beautiful melodies in the context of jazz, rock, and groove. The klezmer sounds bring a unique element into the art.”

So, to Purpose. It opens with “One Provision,” with the bass announcing the track before the sax enters with the theme, which is full of Eastern promise. Then comes the groovy, rhythm-laden main theme, and that delivers promise in the opening – a repeated and well-worked theme that includes some very sweet solo parts. This is what you might call a very social number, because each instrument gets a part, and plays for a while before sharing it back again. The moderation in the middle section is pert and clever, and the tightness and quality of the piece sets the tone for the rest of the album.

The changes and time plays are lovely on “One Provision,” as are the swells and ebbs, with Melody Dornfield’s clarinet emphasizing the theme, while the other instruments support. Then they change, with different instruments taking a turn at leading. The bass line is solid and worth listening for right through, and the solo is gorgeous – deep full bodied and clear. What pervades this track is the rhythmic emphasis and sense of joy with which the theme is taken, played with, shared and shared again. It’s lovely, and a great opener.

The deep notes of the double bass open “Twilight,” before the clarinet gently introduces the theme, which is trinkly and not a little complex. That arrives over the top in a superlative upper register, almost edging out flute-like sounds at some points. Beautifully and passionately delivered, this is a lovely number, particularly when the clarinet soars with trills and tremula. Melody Dornfield’s clarinet speaks like a demon, caresses like a kiss and then returns to what you might consider “normal” playing, repeating the gentle theme – “no, nothing happened here” – but it did and it was wonderful.

“Gratitude” is rhythmic, thematic and swingy. Big Brooklyn introduces changes, tempo alterations and a texture which supports the solos from Luke Soasey’s sax. What is good are the sudden surprises. One moment you are listening to the sax soaring; the next, the bass has walked in to make it a conversation without you even realizing. Clever, and Jo Asker excels on bass.

“Lazy Environment” had me fooled. It is introduced by clarinet over bass, once again, with the clarinet delivering those almost flute-like upper register notes. It fluttering like a bird “up there,” and the essence is gentle and sweet. Then, Big Brooklyn enter, changing the feel – and where that little bird went, I don’t know. Once the band entered, however, the number walks, swings and sashays its way into an Eastern, Klezmer rhythm – and off we go, sauntering through to the end. The clarinet is used incredibly well, and both hits notes spot on and deliberately slinks up to them, showing very different techniques and lip control, adding a slightly laid back feel. “Lazy Environment” is worth many listens for Melody Dornfield’s clarinet playing, let alone the rest of Big Brooklyn. Sumptuous.

“Interesting Day” is well, interesting. There are a lot of changes of tempo and rhythm, sometimes with a suddenness that is surprising but so enjoyable and definitely a little treat. Listen for Willie Dornfield’s drum line here, which changes from marching to ticky-tacking in the background, to thumping out the beats in the blink of an eye. It’s just a little devious, but you will find a smile on your lips.

“Current: Introduction” is led by clarinet over electronic-sounding notes created by the bass strings and drums. Then we have a wonderfully free section before Melody Dornfield’s clarinet emerges once more, soaring over Luke Soasey’s sax and thrumming strings of Jo Asker’s bass. Then we are off with “Current” proper, with its dancing rhythms, expressive melodies and voice-like use of the clarinet. That’s typical of klezmer music, of course, but the track also has a distinctive touch which is completely Big Brooklyn. The non-stop rhythm created by Willie Dornfield’s drums is used as a stolid bass, around and off which the solos form sax and clarinet work. This is fun, foot-stomping music.

“Something in the Way” begins with bass in an almost-folk idiom, with the clarinet joining as if in agreement – yes, we are a little sad here. Written by Kurt Cobain, the song is treated with reverence and care. Big Brooklyn’s take still holds the emotive regrets and builds too like the original, with the sound growing as the sax emphatically drives each note over the deep, sonorous bass line. A complete change of style and atmosphere, and delivered well.

Jerrold Lewis Bock’s “Sunrise Sunset” (from Fiddler On the Roof) is delivered with a slightly held back feel – it’s as if the emotion has been curtailed somewhat because of the missing lyrics – but the harmonies from Melody Dornfield’s clarinet and Luke Soasey’s sax mean the song line itself is never lost. There is a lovely extended section with guitar over drums, and the tune never deviates far from the original, which is pleasant enough.

“Wandering Effect” is fine and dandy, following the theme, which is set from the beginning. Perhaps the least-adventurous number from Purpose, yet there are still some interesting guitar and bass episodes from Aaron Summerfield and Jo Asker. “8 O’Clock” uses portions from Molly Picon and Abraham Ellstein’s “Abi Gezunt” and Sholom Secunda and Schorr Anschell’s “Mein Yiddish Meidele.” The song has been arranged by Melody Dornfield and it makes for very happy listening. The clarinet speaks, squeaks (in a very polite manner) and wails emotively over the support at times, whilst at others Big Brooklyn are together for this light, happy little number. By the third listen, you hear so much in the arrangement and textures it is difficult to believe these are just five musicians.

An alternate take on “Lazy Environment” featuring Boss Eagle on vocals finishes the album and here, we have the coming together of so many influences, accentuated by the inclusion of the vocals. They’re delivered tightly, taking the listener verbally through the music of Purpose. Very entertaining and a lovely surprise for the second half of the track. Boss Eagle is also known as Jamaal Curry.

What makes Purpose great listening is the way the musicians temper and trade off their sounds with each other. There is no vying for solos, yet they are generously dotted about and Big Brooklyn know the value of silence under solos, between riffs and when to re-enter. The clarinet has long been associated with klezmer music, and here it is used to create dialogue. The range it covers is huge, definitely well-placed in the hands of Melody Dornfield. Those really high upper notes are so controlled and the tone is beautiful. This music is a melding of klezmer, jazz and not a little bit of funk – along with just a dusting of rap. The result is a hugely engaging debut, and it is hoped the first of many to come.

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