Hear the first track, an instrumental take on Wu Tang Clan’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Raekwon: “Shimmy Shimmy Ya/Glaciers of Ice” via WBGO here
Guests Include Chris Potter, Nels Cline, Donny McCaslin, John Ellis, Erik Friedlander and others
Hailed as “a blazing hot mess of awesome” by The New York City Jazz Record, the Michael Leonhart Orchestra (MLO) traverses a huge swath of musical terrain, guided by the highly developed ears, ceaselessly omnivorous tastes and playful yet meticulous artistry of its leader, Michael Leonhart. Following their 2018 debut album The Painted Lady Suite, MLO will release their second full length album, Suite Extracts Vol. I on August 30, via Sunnyside Records.
The first single from the new album is “Shimmy Shimmy Ya/Glaciers of Ice,” an orchestral instrumental medley of songs by Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Raekwon from “The Wu-Tang Suite.”
This surprising collection documents an aspect of the MLO’s mission: playing covers, but in the Leonhart way — with widely disparate material ranging from Fela Kuti to Spinal Tap to Howlin’ Wolf to Ornette Coleman curated into suites, forming anarchic yet coherent thoughts on many of Leonhart’s chief musical passions. The album features notable guests Chris Potter, Nels Cline, Donny McCaslin, John Ellis, Erik Friedlander and many others in the context of a vibrant and unclassifiable 20-piece ensemble.
Leonhart says, “there’s a certain abandon and freedom in all the material. A lot of it has a backbeat, which the first album really didn’t. This album is more muscular in many ways. It reflects what we’re doing live: less of the pastoral, transcendent mood pieces, the sonic baths, and more of the groove interaction.”
Leonhart’s approach to the MLO cannot but be informed by his many other activities and wide-ranging credits: he’s a top-level jazz trumpeter and longtime member of Steely Dan; a gifted and distinctive pianist; a singer, songwriter and film composer; a session player with credits including the Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson megahit “Uptown Funk“; an accomplished orchestrator (Nels Cline’s Lovers) and producer (Donald Fagen’s Sunken Condos, Sachal Vasandani’s Slow Motion Miracles). The polyglot musical worldview Leonhart has developed as a result stamps the MLO’s work at every moment.
The MLO has developed and refined the suites through the course of its monthly residencies at Jazz Standard, one of New York’s most prestigious jazz rooms. Leonhart continues to pursue his vision there, with unconventional instrumentation and a shapeshifting community of sought-after players from a variety of cutting-edge scenes and disciplines.
Plotting next steps, Leonhart has a specific scheme in mind for the MLO. Another all-original album, like Painted Lady, will follow this one; then another album of covers. And that sequence will continue to alternate. Candidates among the covers include a Bernard Herrmann Psycho suite, a Charlie Brown Christmas suite, an Ennio Morricone suite, a Cannonball Adderley suite and more. Originals to come include “The Normyn Suite,” a meditation on loss in honor of Leonhart’s late dachshund, and “The Galapagos Suite,” inspired by a recent trip. “We’re playing catchup with the amount of songs we have ready,” the leader says. “I think there are 80 songs in the book and we’ve released about 22. It’s a really creative time.”
Track listing for Suite Extracts Vol. I
1. Alu Jon Jonki Jon (Fela Kuti)
2. La Fuga Di Derek (Leonhart original)
3. Big Bottom/Lonely Woman (Spinal Tap/Ornette Coleman)
4. Dance of the Maidens at Stonehenge (Leonhart original)
5. Built For Comfort (Howlin’ Wolf)
6. Jazz Odyssey/Lick My Love Pump (Spinal Tap)
7. Liquid Swords (Wu-Tang Clan)
8. Da Mystery of Chessboxin (Wu-Tang Clan)
9. Liquid Chamber (Leonhart original)
10. Shimmy Shimmy Ya/Glaciers of Ice (Ol’ Dirty Bastard/Raekwon)
11. The Ballad of St. Hubbins (Leonhart original)
12. Quiet Man is Dead Man Opposite People (The Daktaris/Fela Kuti)