Fresh Cut Orchestra is the finest 10-piece since Kentucky Fried Chicken started stuffing buckets. The band was born at Philadelphia's Painted Bride Arts Center when musical program curator Lenny Seidman put trumpeter Josh Lawrence together with bassist Jason Fraticelli and drummer Anwar Marshall. The adventurous jazzbo trio brought on seven of their most daring friends for an avant-garde escapade of skronk, symmetry, emotional balladry, Ellington-esque elegance, turntable-ism, electronica, and more.
Smoldering guitarist Matt Davis, who worked with the original three, felt the Fresh Cut Orchestra had so many different musical personalities that it would broaden the scope and sound of the music, as evidenced by the first earful of 2015's From the Vine, and again on the band's soon-to-be-released sophomore effort, Mind Behind Closed Eyes. This weekend, the band will host a release party where it all began, the Painted Bride.
"When we first played together as a trio after Lenny introduced us, we clicked immediately," Lawrence says. "I've always been a fan of chordless trios - think Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson - and in a way, the full FCO is an extension of the trio. Together, the three of us complement each other as players, composers, and at this point, real friends."
Lawrence says that he takes a more "traditional" approach to composition, but that working with Fraticelli and Marshall has pushed him to explore new sounds and ideas. "You can hear that on 'Augmented Reality' off the new record," says Lawrence. He wrote "Augmented Reality," which Davis compares to a "crazy film-noirish piece, with a creepy-epic vibe - a perfect sound track to a documentary about abandoned Soviet-era theme parks. Especially in shots where there is a close up of a 40-year-old children's toy in the mud."
One of the newest sounds on the Mind Behind Closed Eyes is the cuatro, the Puerto Rican stringed instrument, played by Fraticelli, which he had never recorded with before. He decided to take a risk and give it a try for the all-live sessions that became Closed Eyes. "I struggle with describing music that I'm making, but for FCO, I would simply describe the sound of this band as passionate," says Davis. "We're all over the place - the new record has a Bitches Brew-inspired track, some Cuban sounds, some 'avant' kinds of stuff, some swinging parts. To me, it comes together because of the passion and wholehearted playing that everyone brings to the band. It just seems to work. Though the group covers a lot of ground, it still sounds cohesive."
Lawrence says that everything stems from that unique digital fusion, even when the 10-piece plays acoustically. "We've maintained that vibe through both records and our upcoming third album, which we are recording next week," he says, "right before the release party."
Most of all, when it comes to playing Mind Behind Closed Eyes songs such as "Frederico" live, Lawrence makes one thing very clear: "It cooks."
Fresh Cut Orchestra 8 p.m. Saturday, Painted Bride Arts Center, 230 Vine St. $15 (in advance); $20 (day of show). 215-925-9914, paintedbride.org. EndText