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Todd Marcus Jazz Orchestra - In the Valley (Stricker Street)

28 June 2022

Composer Todd Marcus has two things that immediately set him apart: he’s one of the very few bandleaders to focus on the bass clarinet as his main instrument, and he draws on his Egyptian American heritage for textures not usually found in the jazz idiom. In the Valley, the Baltimore-based musician’s sixth album and second with his eight-piece Jazz Orchestra, revisits the terrain of 2015’s Blues For Tahrir as an audio travelogue of Egypt, though it’s less political and more intimate than that first Orchestra LP. Marcus doesn’t slam Egyptian folk music and jazz together, mind you – the tapestry is far more subtle than that, drawing more heavily on blues, swing and hard bop for the main melodies and weaving threads of Egypt into the framework. Thus Marcus salutes the god “Horus” and conducts a tour of the “Cairo Street Ride” with Egyptian atmosphere surrounding jazz descant. “The Hive” and the elegiac “Final Days” (which switches locale from Egypt to the New Jersey home Marcus visited for the last time) also front tunesmithery, but the strongest push comes from the album-closing title epic, a tour-de-force of powerful melodies, expert arrangement, sharp solos and a general air of a masterpiece unfolding. Gorgeous and exciting, In the Valley showcases a player and composer at the top of his game.