Big Heart Machine put modern spin on big band jazz

Rock, kosmische and jazz collide in the 19-piece ensemble’s self-titled debut.

Big Heart Machine have released their self-titled debut record, but don’t hit “Play” expecting renditions of Duke Ellington or Glenn Miller. Because the 19-piece ensemble are a big band in format only.

Led by multi-reed player and composer Brian Krock, the band reject the swing and jazz standards typical among such groups in favor of genre-hopping excursions. Progressive rock, avant jazz and the synth-fueled energy of kosmische music combine with familiar big band trappings throughout the record’s eight tracks. Big Heart Machine may only have dropped last week, yet critics are already heralding it as one of the best new jazz releases of 2018.

The five-part suite “Tamalpais” is easily the highlight of the album. It shows off the individual members’ virtuosity on their instruments without losing sight of the bigger picture: to inject vitality into the big band genre. There are even distortion-drenched guitar riffs—which are near and dear to Krock’s heart.

“My main instrument is the guitar,” the bandleader told Downbeat. “And I came up playing with heavy metal bands. So, that finds its way into my music. But in the last ten years, I’ve been studying scores of contemporary classical notations. My main influence is composer György Ligeti and his Violin Concerto with all its microtones, improvisation and harmonic aesthetic.”

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