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Orange Blossom
Alain Druout
The main danger of pigeonholing is to miss music that you might enjoy because you associate it to a category or sphere that you usually dismiss. Herculaneum is a case in point. Their sophomore effort has been released by 482 Music, a record company that has the reputation of putting out albums by the more avant-garde components of the Windy City scene through its commendable Document Chicago series. Well, you will not find much screeching and wailing horns on Orange Blossom , one of the best records by local artists I have heard this year. Members of Herculaneum are not as well known as, for example, saxophonist Dave Rempis or cornet player Josh Berman. Based on their second effort, they should receive as much praise.

At times the quintet sounds like a less cerebral version of the quintet Dave Holland led in the 80s, but it should not reduced to that. The album is filled with call-and-response sequences, beautifully arranged unison passages, well-crafted and uplifting melodies. For instance, "Twin Unicorns" features a sudden break when an exuberant trombone, as zesty as the ones one can find in Latin jazz bands, soars over a zigzagging melody before letting a sinuous alto saxophone lead the band to an all-out finale.

Orange Blossom also has a reflective side. The overlooked British guitarist John Beard, who has been calling Chicago home for quite some time, lends a hand on "Fuzball in Valhalla" by providing light touches and glissandos to the dreamy and sorrowful song. "Cry of the Locusts" ventures in to classical territory and has the quality of a viola (courtesy of Andra Kulans) sonata movement with drummer Dylan Ryan switching to piano (Ryan also wrote all the compositions). The piece can either be viewed as a distraction or a nice change of scenery, but it definitely shows the band's wide range of influences and significant potential for growth.

Herculaneum has developed a unique voice that deserves to be heard. The five musicians work as a tight unit (none of them try to outplay the others) to deliver material that has enough facets to satisfy jazz fans from different horizons.

Back to Orange Blossom album page.
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