Acadia’s Jazz Big Band to Tackle Formanek’s Exoskeleton
By Nicholas D’Amato
On April 4, the Acadia University School of Music’s Jazz Big Band will present a special night of music. The band will perform an extended suite called Exoskeleton, by the great American bassist and composer, Michael Formanek. The original recording of the suite was released on ECM Records in 2016, and performed by Michael’s band, Ensemble Kolossus.
The music is special to me, the director of Acadia’s big band, and it is just plain empirically special. Its universal qualities are on display throughout, whether it be the thrilling written material, perfectly balancing technical challenge with visceral emotional expression, or the wide open spaces of improvisation offering the players a blank canvas to tell their stories within Michael’s vast universe of sound.
The piece covers the entire history of jazz. It perfectly portrays the push and pull between the unusual bedfellows that have always made up the music, namely the oral tradition with its roots in West Africa, and the literate methodology of western classical music. Listening to Exoskeleton will put a listener in mind of Duke Ellington, Olivier Messiaen, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, and the thrilling sound of “downtown” New York.
But to me, it just sounds like Michael Formanek. That the band is playing this music is special to me because I was lucky enough to study with Michael a couple of decades ago. For six years, I would drive out to Michael’s house every week for a lesson. I would play and listen, trying to soak up everything I could. To me, he embodied everything I thought the bass should be: supportive, connective, driving, and restlessly inventive. In addition, he pushed the boundaries of the instrument, always striving to look forward, and seemingly endlessly comfortable with discomfort. I wanted to get there myself. I still do. I want to be the fearless musician that Michael is, and I want my students at Acadia to experience that desire too. Tackling his music, we are all bound to a tough task together, demanding a lot of ourselves as musicians.
I hope you come out to hear us play our version of Exoskeleton. Like all great jazz, so much of the music will be determined in the moment. And like all great music of any kind, everyone in the room is part of the performance. We can’t do it without you. And, if you’ll take my word for it, you will be a bit better for hearing what we do. Let’s all get together for a night of great music-making together.
Thursday, April 4, at 7pm
Pay what/if you can/goodwill donation