It was originally meant to be a one-night stand - and became a woolly mammoth of music. In 2012, Painted Bride music curator Lenny Seidman wanted to celebrate the Painted Bride Art Center's 40th anniversary. So he brought together Philadelphia trumpeter Josh Lawrence, bassist Jason Fraticelli, and drummer Anwar Marshall to see what they could do.
The result was a 10-piece behemoth of elegantly layered jazz touched by post-rock, turntablism, Ellington, and electronica. Led by that adventurous playing/composing trio, and now named the Fresh Cut Orchestra, the group has kept going, with performances just as dramatic as that debut, and a 2015 album, From the Vine, featuring one emotional, innovative cut after another.
Lawrence says that first meeting was easy: "As soon as we played our first note together, I knew we had something."
FCO play Thursday as part of the Kimmel Center's Jazz Residency program. Lawrence credits the residency with giving the band a deeper understanding of "all 10 musicians' strengths and sensibilities." He says he treasured the chance to fine-tune their collective voice. "It was a maturation, if you will, that residency," he says, "our second major commission, after the Painted Bride."
Nobody in FCO ever thought about labeling what the band did. Lawrence says that each writer and player - the rest are Tim Conley on laptop and guitar, Mike Cemprola and Mark Allen on reeds, Brent White on trombone, Brian Marsella on keys, Matt Davis on guitar, and Francois Zayas on percussion - has his own aesthetic and that the result is essentially a Venn diagram of all.
"The common thread is that we are all open-minded musicians willing to learn from one another," Lawrence says. "As far as instrumentation, I had one request: four horns up front. I'm a trumpeter and love writing for horns." Conley brought in a real difference, since Lawrence had never worked with electronics. "Everyone is such a game musician," Lawrence says. "We found our groove quickly." At the Kimmel this week, the band will play From the Vine tracks as well as new ones, such as "Augmented Reality." (That one will be on FCO's next recording, in postproduction.)
The first seven tracks on From the Vine compose "Mother's Suite," by Fraticelli. It's a vision of the life cycle, capturing the tumult and sadness of losing a mother and the utter joy that Fraticelli and his wife felt having a baby around the same time.
"I think you let the musicians pull from their own experiences, like an actor maybe," Fraticelli says. "The one thing I wanted to keep focused on was the timing and development of the musical energy in that movement as it builds and builds and builds, then goes into a simple melody even a child could sing. We can all relate on the heaviest of levels with birth and death and in between. It takes a great musician to be vulnerable enough to let those experiences pulsate through them. Writing it can be the same. It's like trying to take a photograph of the music you hear when you are experiencing those emotions."