The Normyn Suites
Michael Leonhart has a way of combining far-flung elements—regarding style, narrative, instrumentation, or all of the above—into a coherent and satisfying whole. It’s never more apparent than on The Normyn Suites, Leonhart’s third outing at the helm of the Michael Leonhart Orchestra. Although a blockbuster guest, Elvis Costello, appears on the non-suite material—“Shut Him Down,” “Radio Is Everything,” and “Newspaper Pane,” all co-written with Leonhart—the main focus is the two titular suites dedicated to Leonhart’s departed companion, the mini dachshund Normyn. It’s a multi-part meditation on the stages of grief and the process of letting go, and though the palette is orchestral, it is often quite spare, with an overriding gentleness. Leonhart’s inventive approach to timbre and texture is paramount; instruments like percussion, piano, and organ remain identifiable but somehow sound like something else. Leonhart plays trumpet, his main instrument (the one he’s played for many years with Steely Dan), but also bits of bass, drums, guitar, and auxiliary keyboards and brass. Tenor sax contemporaries Joshua Redman and Donny McCaslin are fierce on the first and the last two cuts, respectively, while Chris Potter’s bass clarinet solo on the alternate edit of “Shut Him Down” provides fresh perspective.