"Choose Hope" / "Ndura - The Forest is our Father and Mother: Part 1" / "Ndura - The Forest is our Father and Mother: Part 2" / "Infinite Potential of a Single Moment: Part 1" / "Infinite Potential of a Single Moment: Part 2" / "Ceremonies of Forgiveness: Part 1" / "Ceremonies of Forgiveness: Part 2"
"Ceremonies of Forgiveness is a monumental project by composer Bobby Zankel and his fourteen-piece big band...The album is divided into seven tracks, with three of the four compositions extending to two tracks each. Zankel is the sole composer and arranger, though he successfully found space for eleven of the fourteen musicians involved to take solos.
At times, Ceremonies of Forgiveness feels like a sonic assault, but those moments always resolve into a greater order, bringing a sense of logic and perspective to the listener's experience. The often dissonant melodies lattice with the supporting horn parts, building an ever more complex, constantly evolving musical architecture.
'Choose Hope' exemplifies all of the above: at fourteen minutes, the through-composed tune constantly modifies its main theme, pitting trumpets and saxophones against the exclamations of the trombones, creating contrasts from section to section, and leaving individual improvisers to navigate distinct musical landscapes. Toft's deft trombone solo is especially notable, before the return to the evolved theme.
'NduraóThe Forest is our Father and Mother' thumps along with an undeniable attitude, with flitting saxophones trilling around riffing trombones and distorted guitar lines. The intensity builds through the solos, leading to Iannacone's dissonant improvisation, tempered by the order of the horns. 'Part 2' introduces a Latin feel beneath the barrage of horns, the flute melody floating above it all. One of the finest points on the album occurs when Zankel and McIver simultaneously depart into furious improvisations, reconvening just in time to join the rest of the band.
Each track has its moments, and the soloists take their limited opportunities to add to the greater musical effect. The arrangements and performance are tight, and the end result is the unified sound of fourteen musicians acting as one entity to bring Zankel's ideas to fruition."
- All About Jazz
"...this stellar big-band release shows...they've been performing regularly and the extensive woodshedding is evident. With a mix of young players and more experienced veterans like saxophonist Elliott Levin and drummer Craig McIver, they know how to leverage Zankel's compositions and thoughtful arrangements for explosive collective improvisations. The leader makes the most of the three trumpet, two trombone, five reed, guitar, piano, bass and drums line-up, voicing them tightly over the roiling rhythms, bringing to mind the swirling layers of Africa Brass...
Guitarist Rick Iannacone's skronking electricity is a particular standout, as is pianist Tom Lawton, who can solo with angular percussive shards or drive the ensemble with churning energy. Having the crack rhythm section of bassist Dylan Taylor and drummer McIver on hand doesn't hurt either. They lock in on the pulse of the music and never let the energy flag. And then of course, there is the leader's searing alto, flying across the ensemble with fiery intensity. It's a welcome return to recording for Zankel."
- Signal to Noise
"Enkindled by the wonderful sound of a Buddhistís mission, alto saxophonist Bobby Zankel formed the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound and released a luxuriant and painlessly recognized fourteen-piece band which includes five horns and four saxophones.
Bobby Zankel and the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound forge something interesting here. The repertoire across the album consists of seven compositions. Each piece is a trampoline from which to cook up, untied by the curb of chord changes or a need to serve up the melodies. On the first opus track 'Choose Hope (for Nelson Mandela),' Bobby Zankel, Larry Toft, Dylan Taylor promenade the ensemble into euphonic/inventive territories.
At times a bow utterance will be played in unison by John Swana, Patrick Hughes, Bart Miltenberger with the rest of the band quilting in on the harmonized progression and the melodic phrase.
This piece of art sets appropriate elements from the contemporary, Latin sounds in amalgam with traditional jazz. The music is coherent and not futile. This music is an extension of what Zankel himself had been breeding in his mind. Itís essentially a great 'group format' band, plus their performance has complicated lines which eventually dare other boundaries on the formal structure.
Ceremonies of Forgiveness is all about expression of complex emotions and a quest rather than a summons."
"...Zankel's resume' includes excursions into freer territory, but the compositions on 'Ceremonies of Forgiveness' feature soloists blowing over solid ostinatos. What keeps it interesting is the way different sections of the group add variety to the sound by darting in and out. The approach recalls the way Charles Mingus spurred his soloists, but the often jerky, odd time signatures give this music an original stamp. 'Choose Hope' has a modal groove where the horns tumble over and around each other, later shifting to a driving, dirty groove. A stop-start approach establishes the title track, with the low horns laying one melody beneath a separate part played by the upper horns.
...Among the soloists, Tom Lawton (piano), Elliot Levin (some of the most guttural flute this side of Roland Kirk) and Zankel offer testimony for the continued existence of groups of this size."
"Bobby Zankel's new disc may not have the star-power of his previous big-band efforts (which featured Johnny Coles, Odean Pope, Uri Caine, and Ralph Peterson, among others) but it's a great introduction to the many talented outcats in the Philadelphia Jazz scene. As in any good big band the individual players' crisscrossing histories and personal styles nourish the ensemble sound: the Warriors' various CVs include stints with Odean Pope's Saxophone Choir, Cecil Taylor's big bands, the harmolodic-funk rhythm section of Jamaaladeen Tacuma and G. Calvin Weston (among many others). That mix of names gives you a pretty good picture of the band's passionate, funky-to-free sound...
'Choose Hope' is a bouncy swaying-elephant groove with an African flavor (the piece is dedicated to Mandela), capped off by a terrific, shouting climax. Pianist Tom Lawton's solo offers a rare glimpse of one of Philadelphia's most creative mainstream-to-outside players (his Retrospective/Debut was one of the more unjustly overlooked releases of 2005); Lawton's quicksilver improvisations on this album make most other pianists sound like they're wearing handcuffs. 'Ndura' is the album's heaviest groove, showcasing Rick Iannacone's nasty, guttural guitarwork and piquant solos from Zankel, John Swana, Daniel Peterson, and Dan Scofield (of the Sonic Liberation Front and Shot x Shot). 'Infinite Potential of a Single Moment'...contains two of the album's highpoints: Levin's pungent flute solo, which manages to take on the entire band singlehandedly, and the final plunge into mounting frenzy under Zankel's wailing alto solo. 'Ceremonies of Forgiveness' is more logically structured, moving from darkness (a grinding, compulsive groove) to a sense of yearning (Swana seems to have the Davis/Evans collaborations in mind during his solo here) and at last finding resolution with a bright 3/4 swinger...
There's not much room for balladry or gentle swing, either, though that's not necessarily a problem: this is music that's concerned with lifting the spirits and raising the roof, and they do it better than just about any other big band on the current Jazz scene."
"The bodhisattva Wonderful Sound appears in the classic Buddhist scripture The Lotus Sutra, where he extends the invisible bridge of music so humans can tap into their hope, wisdom and strength. Inspired by Wonderful Soundís mission, alto saxophonist Bobby Zankel formed the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, a bold and expressive 14-piece band which includes three trumpets, two trombones and four saxophones. Located in Philadelphia, the band has played a steady gig for an unheard-of five years, allowing them to cohere into a powerful, exciting ensemble.
'Ceremonies of Forgiveness' is their first CD and its seven songs are uniformly strong. The first cut, 'Choose Hope (for Nelson Mandela),' is 14 minutes of generous, ebullient music. Zankel delivers a mean solo, joyful and soaring, Larry Toft offers a funky trombone lead spurred on by the in-sync trumpets and bassist Dylan Taylorís facile lines hold their own amongst all the brass and woodwinds. Another standout is 'Infinite Potential of a Single Moment (Parts 1 and 2),' an inspirational song with an unusual, inventive arrangement. The song includes a sparkling solo by pianist Tom Lawton and gorgeous flute playing by the always remarkable Elliot Levin, whose solo is as fluid and graceful as birdsong. All compositions are by Zankel, an expert in layering sounds in a way that supports each songís vision. If you want to know whatís really going on in Philadelphia, start with this group."
- AllAboutJazz-New York
"This session testifies to the continuing vitality of the Philly jazz scene. Alto saxophonist and composer Bobby Zankel messes with a 14-piece group to make a recording that is challenging, confounding and compelling.
Zankel creates these thick horn parts that sound like newly discovered Sun Ra charts. The arrangements can be dense but never clunky. Drummer Craig McIver makes them pop. And Zankel's alto atop the backing is its old querulous self, fluttering like an extremely free bird.
The tunes...exude a warm vibe for the spirit while delivering a vicious beat for the body. A long line of deep players add their voices to this meandering melange, including trumpeter John Swana, pianist Tom Lawton, and guitarist Rick Iannacone."
- Philadelphia Inquirer
"Zankel and his thirteen compadres come hard out of the gate with 'Choose Hope,' a rousing tribute to Nelson Mandela, and never let up for the rest of this album. Ceremonies of Forgiveness is a mix of hard-hammering backbeats and inspired big band charts: think Africa Brass gets harmolodics. These Philadelphia warriors have been playing together since 2001, putting Zankelís songs through their paces at a steady gig at the Club Tritone. Despite the large group, solo features are kept at a premium, the accent falling just as much on the ensemble behind the soloists. Pianist Tom Lawton deservedly gets a lot of the spotlight, leading off three of the albumís four cuts, and it's difficult to overpraise the rhythm section of drummer Craig McIver, bassist Dylan Taylor and master skronk guitarist Rick Iannacone. But the star of the show is really Zankel. His songs just keep building and building from one idea to the next, effortlessly sustaining interest across the relatively long (13'-15') tracks and typically ending with a climactic feature for his biting yet smooth alto lines...this is an outstanding album, guaranteed to shake you out of your musical doldrums."