New-music ensembles tend toward the small side, which makes them easy to steer–even celebrated “big bands” like Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet rarely top a dozen. By comparison, Scott Rosenberg’s 25-piece Creative Orchestra, which makes its one and only appearance at this concert, looms as large as a transoceanic liner. On “Hums,” an impressive investigation of tone and timbre from the 1997 recording IE (Barely Auditable Records), a 27-piece ensemble similar in instrumentation to the present group navigates giant icebergs of sound. Starting with featureless blocks from the group’s lowest depths (basses, tuba, baritone sax, contrabass clarinet), Rosenberg progresses unhurriedly to equally impassive cries from the clarinets and violins, with a touch of vibrant dissonance–when I played the CD in my apartment, it caught the ear of a cat not previously known to pay attention to music of any sort. Even on livelier pieces, with a good deal more conventional melodic activity, Rosenberg makes these bulky timbral swaths his main tool. His success as a composer stems largely from his ability to situate and manipulate them–and from the iridescent depth he gives his chords through the frequent waxing and waning of various instruments within them. This music requires an enormously skilled and focused group: such slow-moving passages expose the slightest wobble or hesitation on the part of a single player. Rosenberg moved here from San Francisco in the summer of 1999, and it’s an impressive testament to the depth of Chicago’s talent pool that he’s managed to assemble the large cast he needed for these compositions. The lineup will feature some of the usual suspects on the city’s bustling new-jazz scene, including trombonist Jeb Bishop and pianist Jim Baker (doubling on analog electronics); several names familiar to adherents of modern notated and improvised music, such as vocalist Carol Genetti and oboist Kyle Bruckmann; and lesser-known players like Laurie Lee Moses (saxes), Todd Margasak (cornet), and Jen Clare Paulson (viola and violin). Rosenberg, himself a fine saxophonist with pinpoint control, doesn’t play with this group–he’s too busy conducting. Thursday, March 8, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.