By John Hardaker
Back in 2013 I wrote of Jenna Cave and Paul Weber’s Divergence Jazz Orchestra’s startling debut: “The Opening Statement is, all up, one hell of an opening statement from a group that has a hell of lot more to say. I, for one, am all ears for anything else they want to shout my way”.
I am happy to say the new Divergence album – cheekily and tartly titled Fake It Until You Make It – is here. And I want to shout about it.
As assured and fully-formed as The Opening Statement was, the three years between it and the new one has added an even greater depth and daring to Cave’s writing and the band’s entirely apt and sympathetic reading (in all senses) of her charts.
Other band members have contributed some gems as well, such as trombonist Luke Davis’ Morricone-esque opener ‘On Horseback’. Across just under nine minutes, this piece unfolds through various cinematic moods, helped by the Spanish sketches of Will Gilbert’s trumpet and a beautifully evocative tenor solo from David Reglar.
A large part of Jenna Cave’s gifts as a writer is her love for the tradition of the big band, a favourite being the masterful Basie arranger Sammy Nestico. Her ‘For Míro’ is next – a lightly swinging piece strongly evoking Nestico in her tribute to Miroslav Bukovsky, teacher and mentor. Cave’s neo-classicist chart brings out the neo-classicist in Andrew Scott whose piano solo here is pure Basie: all taste and space.
From Cave the neo-classicist to Cave the arch-modernist: ‘Fantastical Epic (Lessons in Jazz)’ is pure impressionism; a journey through the colours of the big band. This is virtuoso horn writing – as much about texture as it is about melody and narrative.
The first time I ever heard Cave’s work was a tricky African chart called ‘Odd Time in Mali’ (written for the Sirens Big Band and included on The DJO’s The Opening Statement). It showed me her deep love for rhythm and on the new one, ‘Miss Party Pants’ (funky as hell with Luke Liang’s citric blues guitar nipping at the heels of the rhythm section) and ‘Twerking it Nyabs Style’ confirm it. Both are irresistible grooves with unfussy horns never getting in the way of that killer groove; the latter bounces with a springy NOLA ‘second line’ jump that shows the deep strength of rhythm section David Groves on bass and drummer James McCaffrey.
So much good art comes from life’s rivers and roads – and sadly some of the best comes from life’s hurts and tears. Two of the album’s highlights are – to me at least – compositions that gave come from low points in Jenna Cave’s journey as a human and as an artist. Both are statements of hope and renewal and yet the maturity in the writing gives a deep sense of the aching sadness behind them. ‘Now My Sun Can Shine Again’ is lush writing perfectly framing Andrew Scott’s piano solo which lifts through the harmonies, as one’s spirit would lift to the sunlight of hope out of black despair. ‘One Woman’s Day of Triumph’ is quietly triumphant, a little like Cave herself.
Trombonist Brendan Champion and trumpeter Paul Murchison contribute great work here too – allowing a widening of contrasting artistic voices for the Divergence band. Champion’s ‘Tones’ grows into a New Orleans strut out of a staggered 7/4 groove – wonderful contrasts here, both between the grooves and the way Champion’s writing weighs sections of the band against each other. His title tune, ‘Fake It Until You Make It’ is sharp and innovative ensemble writing, lots of ideas but with one idea dovetailing nicely into the next.
Paul Murchison’s driving 3/4 blues ‘Trinity’ plays some cute rhythmic games with the 3/4-12/8 waltz-shuffle groove and sparkles with a sharp be-bop solo from alto Justin Buckingham. It is the toughest tune on the album: direct and based around the core of the band, the rhythm trio.
But it is Jenna Cave who shines here. Her big-hearted brass conception of Miroslav Bukovsky’s ‘Peace Piece’ gets to a place deep inside you. Her framing and emotive colouring of Bukovsky’s pleading and very human melody line is one of many high-points of Fake It Until You Make It.
Back in 2013, I, for one, was all ears for anything else The Divergence Jazz Orchestra wanted to shout my way. Now, three years later, I realise, they no longer need to shout. With a voice as assured as this stellar collection attests to, they will only now need to speak.