John Yao – Flip-Flop

Rather than call it a big band or orchestra, trombonist John Yao calls his ensemble his 17-piece instrument. This configuration’s first recording, Flip-Flop (See Tao Records, 2015) is indeed a big band release.

The 17 pieces are Yao, a five-piece saxophone section, four-piece trumpet and flugelhorn section, four-piece trombone section and three-piece rhythm section. The saxes are John O’Gallagher, alto, soprano and flute; Alejandro Aviles, alto and flute; Rich Perry, tenor; Jon Irabagon, tenor and clarinet; and Frank Basile, baritone and bass clarinet. The trumpets and flugels are John Walsh, Jason Wiseman, David Smith and Andy Gravish. The trombones are Luis Bonilla, Matt McDonald, Kajiwara Tokunori and Jennifer Wharton. And the rhythm players are Jesse Stacken, Bob Sabin and Vince Cherico.

The title song gets the action going from the first beat. It’s all in, with the horns and rhythm section, each providing high-energy thrills. A brief piano phrases interjects, then the full band goes full throttle. Eventually, there’s a gear shift for Perry to take point. He builds, signaling the other musicians to come back in, then hands it over to O’Gallagher. The alto screams at times, comparable to one of Kenny Garrett’s stretching out moments. Things become frantic when multiple saxes join in, overlapping one another. The song downshifts to something more placid, with one of the saxes accompanied only by piano, bass and drums. But that only lasts so long as the intensity builds again, and the other horns get involved. The bass gets a moment in the spotlight before the stellar finale.

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