Orange Then Blue | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Orange Then Blue

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Orange Then Blue borrows a quote from Boston Magazine to bill itself as "Boston's Best Big Band," but does that ever miss the point. You really can't restrict this 12-piece ensemble to "big band" status. You might as well try describing a giant squid as a shellfish: the term, while mechanically true, doesn't even hint at the rules being broken. OTB--the name is a contraction of a Charles Mingus song title--delves into many of the expected sonorities and the rich array of tonal colors made possible by its instrumentation. But they ignore the traditional big-band repertory to concentrate on original compositions and such oddities as a new arrangement of a piece by the avant-garde visionary Albert Ayler, as well as arrangements based on folk songs from Bulgaria and Senegal. What's more, the band's arrangers refuse to box themselves into the formula of ensemble theme and solo variations; instead, the soloists interact with each other, and with the band as a whole, in ways that offer what amount to postmodern variations on concerto writing. As you might guess, OTB doesn't fall into any expected format when it comes to compositional form either, and the music develops with an organic integrity unique to each piece. Perhaps none of this proves so surprising when you learn the band's leader is drummer/composer George Schuller--son of iconoclastic composer/critic/analyst/author Gunther Schuller--but it still places OTB in a rarefied camp among the world's jazz orchestras. The lineup includes Tom Varner--one of the few French horn players to forge a viable jazz style--and rising new-jazz saxist Chris Speed, to name only the better known. But OTB depends far less on marquee soloists than on the stellar exploration of its group aesthetic. Sunday, 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 525-2508.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Susan Wilson.

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