I love all these fantastic unique ensembles popping up wherever I look! From big bands to little big bands to sex-sept-oct-nonets, the desire to create colour, flavour and harmony out of varieties of instruments and personalities seems to be growing.

Mike Nock – an abundant kind of guy himself – has described the debut album of Sydney’s Acronym Orchestra, Initially as an “abundance of ideas…an upbeat collection of original compositions”.

Yes, the septet’s sound is highly original – a horn front line driven by guitar, keys and tuba (Mr James Greening) working in all sorts of intriguing combinations and interweavings – yet, the past is not forgotten.

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From the Soweto Hi-Life shuffle of opener track, guitarist David de Vries’ ‘Miss Coconutz’ through the New Orleans street march of ‘If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It’ to the mariachi flavours of altoist Peter Farrar’s ‘Bastards’ (even if they were crap, I would give them four stars for song titles alone…), the past shadows their Now sound.

De Vries’ ‘Jesus’ has gospel flavours; tenor player James Loughnan’s ‘Branches’ digs into its own kind of blues; trumpeter Joe Derrick’s ‘Joe’s Piece’ unearths a whole different blues (maybe a shade more turquoise) yet again.

It is a wonderful thing to hear The Acronym Orchestra and many of their contemporaries joyfully celebrate and integrate and build upon the musical language of, and beyond, the Jazz tradition – blues, gospel, jump, New Orleans, and even further back to Africa and the Middle East and both West and Eastern Europe.

It is of course what the musicians then do with the tradition they have been given that separates the gilt from the dross.

Echoes from the past bounce around the walls of this music, but what The Acronym Orchestra does next will amaze you – as it did me. ‘Miss Coconutz’ is riven with angular tenor sax; ‘If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It’ grows into a nagging accelerando; ‘Bastards’ leaves Mexico behind in its jet trail; and the heavy lope of ‘Branches’ phractured Phrygian melody is gunned down in a blizzard of free blowing, with drummer James Waples poking holes through the howl.acronym1

And there is profound beauty too. Pianist Harry Sutherland’s ‘Misty’s Dilemma’ contains some pearlescent, shining horn writing. De Vries’ ‘Deep Sea’ pours out a translucent texture for Farrar’s alto lines to dart beneath like silver fish.

Album closer ‘Funeral March’ is perhaps the most startling. A jaunty, life-gripping march is answered by mourning sighs from the horns until, slowly and almost unnoticeably, the piece smears, like paint, into a wash-blur of sadness, and then… it’s gone.

‘Funeral March’ is only one example here that shows what an original voice and conception The Acronym Orchestra posses. For a debut, ‘Initially’ is truly remarkable.

And, to quote Mr Nock again, it is music – often because it is joyous, but often because it is so damn good – “that’ll put a smile on your face.”

Published February 2104 on australianjazz.net

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