Tobias Hoffmann Jazz Orchestra: Plot


Large bands playing the same tunes over and over on the road gave way to the relatively static jazz orchestra, seen as a fruitful medium for composers whose deference to the old tradition can be fleeting. Of course, the life of music written for them, in line with contemporary music of other genres, is often just as fleeting. Perhaps that’s why so much work goes into original projects, like the one featured on this album by German saxophonist and composer Tobias Hoffmann.

One of the losses of touring bands, which were synonymous with dancing, is the importance of the rhythm section. Hoffmann’s 18-piece orchestra has one, but its quirky charts are propelled as much by declamatory and contrapuntal motifs as they could be by background driving energy. This may explain why the short second track, Elegy, is performed by a horn choir with no rhythm section, and why this same section is only heard to its advantage when the oratorical wind sections fall silent or decrease in volume.

Hoffmann’s previous claim to fame was his nine-piece band’s album win Retrospective at the 2019 Made in New York Jazz Competition. Conspiracy, put together despite the Covid lockdown, is far more ambitious: a rigorous compositional exercise full of evidence of just how much can still be achieved with familiar materials. Trailblazers is the closest homage to its ancestors, Awakening evokes dark personal angst, Relentless cleverly slips the atonality of a 12-note row into a tonal mold, and the lively Imposter Syndrome offers a reflection of the energy that Hoffmann considered self-doubt.

Everywhere the writing is detailed, often chromatic, and united with the soloists, who appear on all titles except Elegy. It’s a talented group playing uplifting music by a composer as strong on big band musculature as he is quietly thoughtful about the more fragile vocals that emerge when hard blowers catch their breath.

Conspiracy; Elegy; december song; Awakening; Tirelessly; Trail Blazers; Renegade; impostor syndrome; Who knows (introduction); Who knows (70.47)
Hoffmann (cond, arr); Patrick Dunst (as, ss, f); Andy Schofield (as, f, cl); Robert Unterköfler (ts, ss, cl); Martin Harms (ts, cl); Jonas Brinckmann (bar, bcl); Dominic Pessl, Bernhard Nolf, Felix Meyer, Simon Plötzeneder, Jakob Helling

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Henry R. Wright