THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS | Art Lange, Point of Departure Issue 34 - April 2011

It’s an interesting coincidence that the most recent composer to address the Seven Deadly Sins, Joseph Daley, is, as was Russo, a brass player (tuba and trombone) with extensive big band experience. He’s recorded with ensembles led by Gil Evans, Carla Bley, Edward Vesala, Sam Rivers, George Gruntz, Muhal Richard Abrams, and Taj Mahal among others – an amazing wealth of writing styles from which to learn. But there’s an interesting twist to Daley’s program; he was drawn to the subject and inspired by a sequence of SDS paintings by Wade Schuman (reproduced in the booklet accompanying the recording, and bonus documentary DVD, newly issued on Jaro Records). Schuman’s artwork, done in the ‘90s, is a fantasy blend of Bosch detail and Magritte vision – unusual animals and/or insects representing each transgression. Just as the pictorial symbolism sparked Daley’s imagination, his first-hand familiarity with the colors and textures of the big band, based on a solid harmonic foundation from the bottom (brass) up, fueled his musical response. His writing style has a fluidity and poise reminiscent of Oliver Nelson’s, and he likes to set a groove and let it percolate. Like Russo, Daley handpicked his players, but allows them more solo space, and is amply rewarded. Programmatically, his characterizations may be more literal that Russo’s, but they display a distinctive musical point-of-view. 

For example, there’s more than a bit of wit at play, largely due to Daley’s deft manipulation of tonal colors. “Gluttony” begins with tuba, sarrusophone, contrabass clarinet, and bass trombone groaning and muttering – an overburdened digestive tract at work? – and evolving into Brazilian rhythms launched by an active percussion section. “Anger” confronts a jagged melody with abrupt, aggressive comments; its uncontrollable energy results in instruments shooting off in different directions. For “Sloth,” Scott Robinson’s bass sax sings a bloated lament, joined by low, drifting, clotted chords. “Pride” features an exotic, Scheherazade-like melody divided between soprano saxophone, massed trumpets, vibes, and harmonica, with a mellow canonic interlude. “Lust,” more than twice as long as any of the other movements, builds section by section, with a scorching Lew Soloff trumpet solo that galvanizes the other trumpets into free polyphony, blustery tuba from Bob Stewart, bristling piano (Onaje Allan Gumbs) and vibes (Warren Smith) counterpoint , and Benjamin F. Brown’s bass soliloquy. Impressive, vibrant music, from start to finish. But that’s not the whole story. As an addendum, Daley includes the extended composition Ballade of the Fallen African Warrior, dedicated to his late brother Winston. The Oliver Nelson connection is even more applicable here – attractive, accessible melodies developed in thoughtful, lively ways. He combines noble brass themes, Latin rhythms, a cathartic outcry of horns, invigorating solos (note especially Gumbs’ piano and Vincent Chancey’s French horn), and contrasting moods into a cohesive whole with a joyous, yet pensive, conclusion – a subtle reflection on the complexity of the human spirit. Likewise, if Daley’s Seven Deadly Sins aren’t intended to save one’s soul, they are diverting portraits of human foibles and wondrous strange behavior, just as tempting and seductive, if not as deadly, as they once seemed.”