When you think of the Big Bands of Jazz you think of artists like; Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Gene Krupa, Sun Ra, Dizzy Gillespie, and Fela Kuti to name a few and not to mention the Preservation Hall Jazz Band as well. It’s hard to imagine someone trying to do a Jazz Big Band mixed in with some Fusion and Progressive Rock rolled into one. One of the artists who are carrying the essence of Jazz mixed in with Avant-Garde, Free Jazz, and the two genres is Nathan Parker Smith.
Since forming the 18-piece large ensemble six years ago, Nathan himself has brought the ensemble in various places in New York around the venues and won several awards including the 2010 BMI Charlie Parker Composition Prize, Billy Joel Scholarship for Composition, and the Raymond and Maxine Schrimer Prize in Jazz Composition to name a few and he has really shown a lot of recognition from not just being himself, but also the 18-piece ensemble deserve a pat on the back as well to let Nathan know they still have a huge amount of support for him to see which area he will go into.
His debut album released last year on the Brooklyn Jazz Underground label, Not Dark Yet, is one of the most mind-blowing, unexpected, and shattering debuts I’ve listened to from beginning to end. It’s this combination of Progressive Rock, Jazz, and Hard Rock rolled into one with a big band vibe to it. There are elements of the sounds of Manfred Mann’s Chapter Three, Black Sabbath, and King Crimson to name a few for inspirations.
The opening track, Mega, starts off with an intense fanfare between the woodwinds, trumpets and trombones to give it a darker yet blaring introduction as it segues into the Sabbath-Crimson punch on Interstellar Radiation Field. There are some unexpected time changes that are coming out of nowhere including the thumping rhythm section along with some stop-and-go moments that will make your jaws drop to see where Nathan decides where wants the sections to go into and it’s like the twists and turns will get you to take notes.
Creature Rebellion starts with a crescendo by Jared Schonig’s drums and Kenji’s take on Fripp-like nightmare and as I’ve mentioned the stop-and-go moments. And also, it reminded me of as if the Scenes from a Memory-era of Dream Theater had teamed up with the Zeuhl masters of Magma from their Kohntarkosz-era to create a fierce and sinister combination while David Smith plays trumpet on his solo and it’s like an alarm going off ready for an attack out of nowhere doing it in the styles of Miles Davis.
Elsewhere, Solace and Dark Matter, gives Landon Knoblock a chance to do some improvisations on his Rhodes that Nathan gives him along with some of the members of the horn sections some free rein. Knoblock does an intro on here that is a comforting sound as he creates different moods before the bands kicks into gear with a startling sound of Manfred Mann Chapter Three’s first album. Horn sections galore that Nathan is giving the band a surprising jaw-dropping moment as each of the members go into a free-jazz touch to blare out with a ear-piercing thrill as the rhythm goes into overdrive at 151 beats per minute.
Nathan also goes into the world but in a dystopian nightmarish ominous dooming surrounding beat of the rhythm as if something terrible has happened on Fog over East. Nathan has come a long way and he has brought a lot of the ingredients to the table on his debut and who knows where the future will hold for him to see where and the 18-piece ensemble will go to next in the future and the many years to come.
I’ve really enjoyed Not Dark Yet and not just because it is a Jazz album, but more of an overwhelming experience that is unexpected, jaw-dropping moments, intensity, and a dramatic debut for them and Nathan Parker Smith to travel into. If you love bands like I’ve mentioned before; King Crimson, Manfred Mann Chapter Three, Black Sabbath, Centipede (Keith Tippett), Fire! Orchestra, and Magma to name a few, Nathan Parker Smith’s Not Dark Yet is the album to really sink into.