Kyle Saulnier’s Awakening Orchestra weaves third stream jazz with social message

Bronx-based composer Kyle Saulnier’s 19-piece Awakening Orchestra makes quite a statement in its debut album, Interlude: Atticus Live! — The Music of Jesse Lewis on Biophilia Records, out since Dec. 5, 2016.

Saulnier is an American writer with conviction. With what he calls post-modern third stream music, he and his orchestra play through various stages of jazz and all its incarnations from the big band period of old to 20th century classical music, and today’s amalgam of EDM, hip-hop, industrial, and alt-rock in the nine-track album.

The album’s based on indie guitarist Jesse Lewis’ 2008 album, Atticus. The Atticus Live! album features Lewis on guitar in a special piece, “Snowflake,” which is the highlight of the entire show. His reverbatory grace leaves a hazy, golden residue over the rest of his tracks that rest in places (“The Pasture [You Come Too]”) and activate in others for a rebel-yellin’ battle cry (“The Adventures Of Dirt McGillicuddy”).

Not quite a big band blast of things past and things to come, and not quite a complete break from reality, Saulnier’s vision for the Awakening Orchestra seems to seek shelter from the world’s increasing madness, yet fight through the injustices from the inside out in this broad-ranging, cross-pollinated music that rejuvenates and invigorates, steadies and then readies.

Through moments of rest, strings set to stun and softened horns pushing a tentative but true invitation in glowing tonal portals — and moments of strident, fist-pumping big band, horn-driven flare-ups, the Awakening Orchestra makes its stance and its statements strong, identifiable, a musical of our turbulent time.

“The Adventures Of Dirt McGillicuddy” makes the biggest statement. The lengthy instrumental transmogrifies from a subtly angsty guitar make-up into a triumphant trumpet number, belting out minor aggressions for the bigger picture. Trumpeter Jonathan Powell solos powerfully, one fiery blast after another.

“The Robert Frost Experiment” brings in the entire horn section on full blast, only some of the members aren’t syncing up entirely, leaving some of the tone strength wavering slightly.

The interlude that follows resembles a tentative warm-up session as guitarist Michael Macallister introduces himself in flickering stanzas that leave silhouettes rather than substantive formations, perhaps a shadow of Lewis to come.

The rhythm section comes on too strong, skipping in places, but this seems intentional, a nod to the post-modern affluenza threatening to dissect us all.

Kyle Saulnier arranged and orchestrated the works composed by Jesse Lewis. The album was recorded in front of a live audience at Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn Feb. 12, 2015.

Check out the Orchestra at its next concert at St. John's Lutheran Church in New York 7:30 p.m. March 2.