Michael Moss Accidental Orchestra - Helix

Label: Self produced, 2018

Personnel includes - Michael Moss: clarinet, composition, arrangement; Michael Lytle: bass clarinet; Jason Kao Hwang: violin; Steve Swell: trombone; Waldron Mahdi Ricks: trumpet; Richard Keene: oboe; Vincent Chancey: french horn; Elliott Levin: saxophone, flute; Ras Moshe Burnett: tenor and soprano saxophones; Steve Cohn: piano; Billy Stein: guitar; Larry Roland: bass; Warren Smith: percussion; Michael Wimberly: percussion; Chuck Fertal: drums; and more.


Michael Moss is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and arranger that has been an assiduous presence in the New York’s free and avant-garde panoramas. His new album, Helix, comprises a 36-minute, 5-part suite and a separate composition that runs for more than 20 minutes. To accomplish this work, Moss gathered a 22-piece new ensemble, the Accidental Orchestra. The band includes respected bandleaders and improvisers such as violinist Jason Kao Hwang, trombonist Steve Swell, hornist Vincent Chancey, and saxophonist Elliott Levin, who doubles on flute. Pianist Steve Cohn and guitarist Billy Stein have a hand in texture and bring occasional harmonic color, while the robust rhythmic foundation is established by Larry Roland on bass, Warren Smith and Michael Wimberly on percussion, and Chuck Fertal on drums. 

The Old One suite, influenced by several ritualistic practices from different parts of the world, opens with “Inception”, giving you a good idea of what is coming next. Its extravagant textures sometimes feel light, perceptible and explicit, while other times feel massive, dense and knotty.

Bridge” evokes the stratospheric Afro explorations of Sun Ra, especially through the actions of piano, vibraphone and drums, whereas “Qabbala” pairs off violins and horns, with guitar and piano fortifying the athletic raids of bass and percussion. 

The fourth part, “Bardo” brings mysterious tones through a whimsical combination of highly contrasting pitched sounds. As the time passes, the interactions get inflated, taking proportions of a loud crescendo.

The suite comes to an end with “The Mind of God”, whose duration extends for almost 16 minutes without getting us tired. A shuffling rhythmic cadence looks for a desperate flute dissertation adorned with chamber fills. After a few exciting runs from the oboe, there’s an atmospheric passage made of clarinet over a controlled guitar. However, it’s Steve Cohn’s piano that brings forth that jazz glow we were waiting for. The ride ends up in a concordant chamber jazz feast.

Closing out the record, we have a spiritual, swinging, celebratory piece, “See Sharp Or Be Flat/C# or Bb”, which is probably the most accessible due to a less number of collisions and intersections. Freely blending tradition and modernity, this composition, written when Moss was recovering from a fracture resultant from tripping over a curb, features numerous improvisers whose discourses are separated by suspenseful bridging passages. A blazing percussion discussion is reserved for the end.

Michael Moss works the orchestral dynamics with passion and Helix becomes less intricate and more intelligible as the record is played over and over.

        Grade  B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Bridge ► 05 - The Mind of God ► 06 - See Sharp Or Be Flat/C# or Bb