The Marches – Director of Photography EP

The Marches - Director of Photography EP

Word has it that The Marches – directed with flare by saxophonist/songwriter Richard Conti – are planning to drop a new LP sometime in early 2012.  To tide everyone over until that date arrives, the band is releasing Director of Photography, an EP that all but abandons the retro Motown sound they so skillfully cultivated on 4a.m. is the New Midnight.  In place of the hip-hop grooves, electro-rock jams, and saucy jazz riffs that largely defined the noir atmosphere of that album, The Marches give us four tunes that highlight Conti’s gifts of orchestration and arrangement with the woodwind family.  Applied in a concert band setting, the flute, clarinet, and saxophone can often sound gossamer and fragile, but in Conti’s capable hands the instruments are often made to sizzle and snarl.

Two of the four songs that comprise Director of Photography are covers; Thom Yorke’s “Black Swan” and Adele’s “Cold Shoulder” both get new life breathed into them.  Conti may be a woodwind master by trade, but his note-for-note redux of the “Black Swan” bass line is equally astonishing.  Given the original’s sleek and mechanized sheen, The Marches’ take on the 2006 cut from Yorke’s Eraser album is wonderfully organic, pairing guy/girl vocals with a thick porridge of tenor sax and clarinet harmonies.  Bristling electronic glitches and quivering synths have been eschewed for simple acoustic guitar strums and a less erratic drum beat.

While the band’s version of “Black Swan” is a worthy update to an already stellar track, their adaptation of “Cold Shoulder” is an even more palpable example of just how nimble these guys are with someone else’s song.  Most impressive is the vocal work of Briana Nadeau, who beguiles the listener with a set of pipes that goes from feeble to fiery in a flash.  It’s also on this track that the ubiquitous old school R&B sparkle of 4a.m. shines more readily, as another virtuosic bass line and exuberant punctuations from the low reeds come to the fore.

The remaining two cuts on the EP are split between offerings from a live podcast and a compilation attributed to recondite songwriter Benjamin Durdle.  “Need Me Back” is an extended retinkering of the track by the same that appeared on the group’s debut disc.  The bombastic drums are all gone, meaning that Nadeau’s vocals and Conti’s (sometimes skronky) improvisations on the tenor are given more room to roam.  “Big City” is a haunting elegy dominated by aching vocals and plodding piano chords; it also ranks among the most sincerely melancholy gestures The Marches have made yet.

If the press release is to be believed, a year and a half is an awfully long time to wait for a batch of new material from this formidably talented Hollywood act.  With an engrossing LP and EP now on their resume, it would seem that sooner, rather than later, is the logical time to release a sophomore follow-up.