A uniquely Philadelphian ten-piece band, the Fresh Cut Orchestra is co-led by trumpeter Josh Lawrence, bassist Jason Fraticelli and drummer Anwar Marshall. They return to Ropeadope Records on August 26, 2016 with Mind Behind Closed Eyes, a highly varied collection of pieces from the three composers. The album also marks the recorded début of Fraticelli on cuatro, a Puerto Rican stringed instrument similar to the Cuban tres. The album was recorded entirely live - all the electronic processing done in-the-moment in Ableton, and where Fraticelli plays cuatro, guitarist Tim Conley switches to bass.
The cuatro is one of the first sounds of the record, opening the aptly titled bolero miniature “My Summer in Puerto Rico,” which gives way to Fraticelli’s title track, propelled by a breakbeat from Marshall and live electronics from Conley. As Lawrence says, “We wanted people to be surprised by every track, to not know what would come next.”
The centerpiece of the album is Lawrence’s 10-minute opus, “Augmented Reality.” Originally conceived as a feature for guitarist and laptop artist Conley, it evolved “like a sea monster emerging from the water,” the trumpeter says. “I had never worked with live electronics before FCO, and I wanted to write something completely different from what I normally do.”
Latin influences return, this time in the form of Lawrence’s tune “Frederico,” a whimsical “what-if” merging traditional Cuban danzón with the harmonies of Chopin.
FCO roots itself in Philly’s rhythmic tradition. Jazz visionaries such as Art Blakey and Miles Davis would often scout the city for its musicians. As Marshall states, “I believe Philly musicians have a certain conception of rhythm that we all agree upon, a rhythmic dialogue that we all understand. That language is very hard swinging, but it's timing is laid back and relaxed.” Lawrence concurs, “There’s nothing like drummers from Philly! And us trumpet players are best friends with drummers, because we have to be!” In Marshall’s two tunes, “Indecision” and “New Expectations,” the continuum of Philly pulse can be heard completely.
The core trio of Lawrence, Fraticelli and Marshall were initially put together by Lenny Seidman of the Painted Bride Arts Center, home of the longest running jazz series in the city. Seidman decided to pick three emerging composer-performers from the area to form a larger ensemble. The three co-leaders clicked as a trio who love playing bebop, and they found a special democratic balance. “Josh brings a sophistication and practicality to the band, and I’m always super excited,” says Fraticelli. “We balance each other out in making decisions. Anwar is a completely supportive spirit - any idea you come up with, he understands.”
Fraticelli describes the band as a group of overlapping relationships. “Josh suggested we have four horns, and pulled from his experiences in many of Philly’s jazz programs. Saxophonists Mike Cemprola and Mark Allen are best friends, but at the time I didn’t know them.” Trombonist Brent White was familiar to all three co-leaders, as they had all passed through various Philly big bands. Fraticelli enlisted his best friend Tim Conley, then living in LA, and fleshed out the rhythm section with pianist Brian Marsella - known for his work with Cyro Baptista - and Cuban percussionist Francois Zayas, who has been a fixture in the city for over a decade. “We’ve been very fortunate for the commissions we’ve received from the Painted Bride and the Kimmel Center,” Fraticelli says. “We’ve been very lucky and we’ve made the most of these opportunities in the best way possible. It creates art that wouldn’t have otherwise happened. It’s great for the local music scene and great for the city.”
Where the FCO’s first album, From The Vine, was more of a narrative effort centered around Fraticelli’s “Mother’s Suite,” Mind Behind Closed Eyes is more open to the listener's interpretation and more evenly split among the three compositional voices. As the title suggests, the emphasis is letting one's imagination run free while listening to the record with eyes closed. As Lawrence says, “For this album, we want people to come up with their own stories for the music.”
Fresh Cut Orchestra will perform two release concerts in support of Mind Behind Closed Eyes: August 27 at their birthplace, The Painted Bride Arts Center in Philadelphia, PA; and August 29 at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center, NYC.
This project is supported (in part) through a grant from the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Composers Forum.