October 30th, 2009


Tom Varner conducts his tentet through some of his compositions and seem to be transported to a far away place. His music is so sublime.

From Earshot Jazz Festival we continue to see and hear such wonderful groups and performances. Tom Varner presented his new tentet and new CD, Heaven and Hell.
“Varner calls the piece “my big meaty work for tentet,” something he’s incubated and worked on since September 11, 2001. He notes that the piece mixes “My … hell … being in New York City on 9/11,” with that most incongruous thing, a sort of heaven, as he and his wife adopted their son in Vietnam a short 8 days later. That contrasting mix of elements and imperatives is a Varner specialty, something he did with magnificent ease on The Window Up Above, a take on the American song-book, in 1998. The free-ranging French horn, hardly something one associates with George Jones, made fabulous, slippery improvisational material out of, well, George Jones and other American staples on Window. The point? Varner’s got no fear of steep material, of flowing free, of going “big and meaty.” Varner’s discography shows him using his horn as if it were always an improviser’s mainstay, something that shone as it seemed to smear across notes, slowed brilliantly even as it sped (it is a French horn, after all). His 2001 look at Don Cherry’s Second Communion is nothing short of a master-work, a tribute, of course, but also something that takes the trumpeter’s clipped execution and makes it pliable and all-encompassing. That’s what Heaven and Hell promises, the orchestration of Varner’s elastic harmonics, his use of the ensemble as an instrument, his Ellingtonian ability to animate against the instruments’ limitations.”
—Andrew Bartlett
from Earshot Jazz Festival Program

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