Best Little Big Band

Jason Roebke Octet

Critics' Picks

Midsize jazz ensembles have been around for as long as jazz has existed, and they're especially versatile: Louis Armstrong's Hot Seven provided a supportive, uncluttered framework for soloists; Charles Mingus obtained an orchestral array of moods and colors from an octet on Mingus Ah Um; and Peter Brötzmann's Chicago Octet (later Tentet) combined titanic massed blasts with breakout subgroups that yielded unpredictable free improvisations. The High/Red/Center (Delmark), transition between rustling free-form excursions, sumptuously Ellingtonian horn charts, and passages whose drifting long tones link the blues to minimalist composition. The soloists run the gamut from fragile lyricism to expressionist ebullience, and the rhythm section swings with a machinelike efficiency that Count Basie would appreciate. What separates this octet from every other band around, though, is the warmth of its collective voice: without falling back on cuteness or comedy, it infuses its music with irresistible joy.