Boston's Jazz Composers Alliance is fearless about subject matter — this, after all, is the organization that gave us The Death of Simone Weil as an "improvisational cantata." The composer of that piece, Darrell Katz, a founder of the JCA, is the sole composer for this disc, which runs the gamut from the topical "December 30, 1994" (about the Brookline women's-health-clinic murders) to the self-explanatory "Everybody Loves Ray Charles."
All of the Katz/JCA hallmarks are here: the roiling expressionistic canvases, full of dramatic dynamic and textural contrasts (bad-dream vibraphone atmospherics, a mix of spoken and sung verse); brawling, virtuoso horn solos; free-collective outbursts; chugging rhythms; beautifully calibrated ensembles. "December 30," "Lemmings" (for George W. Bush supporters), and "I'm Me and You're Not (Ha Ha)," all settings of poems by Paula Tatarunis, match sharp-witted anger (and humor) with a range of tonal color, JCA mainstay Rebecca Shrimpton vocalizing expertly.
The sharp edges are leavened by the "What I Say" call-and-response of the Ray Charles piece, a nearly old-fashioned arrangement by Katz of Willie Dixon's title tune (with a terrific vocal performance by veteran rock and soul singer Mike Finnigan), and the dreamlike melancholy of "Like a Wind," a setting from Sherwood Anderson's Wineseburg, Ohio. Did I say fearless?
JAZZ COMPOSERS ALLIANCE ORCHESTRA | Emmanuel Church, 15 Newbury St, Boston | November 22 at 8 pm | $12 | 781.899.3130 or www.jazzcomposersalliance.org