Jazz Institute of Chicago

Brian O’Hern and the Model Citizens Big Band: Let’s Make Gravy

Brian O’Hern and his iconoclastic orchestra return for another set of zany and good-humored music. O’Hern’s goal has never been to create timeless music but to give his listeners a good time. The opening track—“Concerto for George”—is a concentrate of what the band is all about: great musicianship, tight ensemble playing, and hilarious vocals.

Deeply rooted in the swing tradition, Brian O’Hern and his band mates navigate through various styles—including waltz, reggae, and western—sprinkled with a good measure of dissonance and humor. In its fanfare-like passages, the band is also reminiscent of more modern ensembles such as Frank Zappa—an acknowledged influence—and the Willem Breuker Kollektief even though the leader claims he has never heard of the Dutch orchestra. Finally, O’Hern’s thumbs his nose at serious music with a lovely sonata that brings the album to a close.

Throughout the recording, ensemble playing is favored and guitarist Mike Allemana gets most of the solo spots, which should not surprise those who are accustomed to hearing him play with Von Freeman. However, the band is rounded out by a quite capable crew that includes some very familiar names: Matt Ferguson, Pat Mallinger, Scott Burns, to name a few.

I should mention that O’Hern’s brand of humor is not always for all tastes as it sometimes veers toward scatology, but “Let’s Make Gravy” will definitely satisfy the appetite of those jazz fans who think that jazz can also be fun. And with a program running slightly under 35 minutes, they will also definitely want to head to the Gallery Cabaret where the band performs every third Monday of the month.-Alain Drouot

Self-released.