In San Francisco, where there are seemingly as many polite dinner-jazz acts as there are trendy new restaurants, Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra stands out like a red balloon in a white poppy field. With its full-on bursts of sonic chaos and intricately arranged, bluesy swing, the seven-piece orchestra is about as far from background music as you can get. Those listeners who prefer their jazz to match their wallpaper had better run for cover.
And yet, the beauty of the FTO is that it isn't all bombast and confrontation. As searing and high-energy as the group's performances are, they usually show off a delicate balance between gently swinging horn section harmonies (via trumpeter Darren Johnston and saxophonists Jeff Chan and Aaron Bennett) and unyielding improvisational noise freakouts (from acoustic bassist Lane and others).
The diversity in the FTO's palette is probably due to its youthful leader's already impressive musical and compositional experience -- the latest feathers in his cap include a duet with Tom Waits for the soundtrack to Pollock and his vital role on free-jazz pioneer John Tchicai's excellent 2000 recording Infinitesimal Flash. He's also been a standout on the Bay Area creative music scene for the last few years, composing works for a variety of unusual chamber ensembles and performing regularly at the Luggage Store Gallery and TUVA Space. But for all his "outside" musical background, Lane strongly recalls none other than jazz giant Charles Mingus in his use of the colors and textures of the midsize jazz ensemble and his epic, multisectioned compositions. Of course, Lane's version of Mingus not only soaks up Duke Ellington's harmonies and the whole of the jazz tradition, but fully appreciates the wallop of Metallica as well.
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