By Hrayr Attarian
Heisenberg Uncertainty Players Gradient
John Dorhauer – Director, arranger
Natalie Lande – Soprano, alto sax
Kelley Dorhauer – Alto sax
Dan Burke, Matt Beck – Tenor sax
James Baum – Baritone sax
Michael Nearpass, Josh Torrey, Chris Shuttleworth – Trombone
Dan DiCesare – Bass trombone
Adam Roebuck, Jon Rarick, Bennett Heinz, Emily Kuhn – Trumpet
Chris Parsons – Guitar
Stu Seale – Piano/synthesizer
Dan Parker – Bass
Jonathan Wenzel – Drums
Heisenberg Uncertainty Players (HUP) is a young, dynamic, Chicago-based big band that composer John Dorhauer leads. He also pens the majority of the ensemble’s music which, although solidly rooted in jazz, draws amply from other influences. The group’s second release Gradient is accurately representative of its sound. It includes nine Dorhauer tunes and his arrangement of the first movement of Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony.
Inspired by the eponymous game, the last four tracks constitute the richly textured The Basketball Suite. Opening with bassist Dan Parker’s swaggering beats, the funky “Switch Everything” has an earthy, simmering groove and restless overlapping vamps. Against this percolating backdrop several of the musicians take brief turns in the spotlight. These include saxophonist Natalie Lande and her muscular agile alto lines, guitarist Chris Parker with his crisp, resonant chords and trombonist Chris Shuttleworth and his fluid, buttery growl.
The rest of the suite moves from the cinematic “Point Giannis” with its tense ambience and kaleidoscopic sounds, to the expectant “Schedule Loss” with long, mournful horns and soulful rhythmic flourishes that together create a Latinesque sound. The final segment, “Gradient,” is mellifluous and hypnotic with brightly hued refrains. It features trumpeter John Rarick’s lyrical soliloquy, with burnished tones and high notes, as well as saxophonist Dan Burke’s eloquent and serpentine tenor.
In contrast “Four Sides of the Circle” is more solemn and eerily gripping. Over pianist Stu Seale’s tolling keys and a collective ominous drone, a chorus of wordless vocals rise—creating a dramatic atmosphere. From within the honking and fluttering woodwinds emerges saxophonist Kelley Dorhauer’s expressive and haunting performance. Meanwhile, a more angular cadence buoys trombonist Josh Torrey’s warm and gritty solo.
The stately and symphonic “Mahler 3, Movement 1” is yet another facet of HUP’s style. Drummer Jonathan Wenzel drives the piece with his sometimes pulsatile, often thunderous, percussion. Trumpeter Emily Kuhn and trombonist Michael Nearpass take center stage with poignant urgency and a touch of bright anticipation.
Gradient is delightful and intriguing. What it lacks in thematic cohesiveness it makes up for in vibrant diversity and charismatic talent. Thanks in great part to Dorhauer’s inventive leadership and stimulating writing, the album showcases the orchestra as both an energetic and electrifying whole as well as a hotbed for individual virtuosity.