The 12 Houses

The 12 Houses

New York City, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2012 | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2012
Band Jazz



The best kept secret in music


"Big band free jazz is more than discordant noise."

Big band free jazz is more than discordant noise.

Matt Lavelle’s 12 Houses – Solidarity [TrackList follows] – Unseen Rain UR-9945, 48:52 [5/6/16] ****:

(Matt Lavelle – cornet, Flugelhorn, alto clarinet, conductor; Lee Odom – soprano sax, clarinet; Charles Waters – alto sax, clarinet; Ras Moshe Burnett – soprano sax, tenor sax, flute, bells; Tim Stocker – baritone sax, bass clarinet; Mary Cherney – flute, piccolo; Claire de Brunner – bassoon; Chris Forbes – piano; Laura Ortman – violin; Gil Selinger – cello; Anders Nillson – guitar; Jack DeSalvo – banjo, mandola; John Pietaro – vibraphone, percussion; François Grillot – doublebass; Ryan Sawyer – drums; Anaïs Maviel – voice)

Matt Lavelle likes to use the fullest spectrum of instruments as possible. The multi-horns player (cornet, Flugelhorn and alto clarinet) includes 16 musicians on Solidarity, his debut as the leader/conductor of 12 Houses. Lavelle also penned the six originals. Instead of pursuing a typical jazz big band or large ensemble approach, Lavelle focuses on sweeping improvising, with cues provided by his compositional writing. In other words, while there are moments of melodic, lyrical and harmonic construction, there are many more where instrumentalists apply elements of free jazz or open soloing.

Lavelle’s preliminary plan was to employ 12 musicians, embodying the 12 zodiacal signs. But he felt he could further supplement his music, so the group enlarged, and the opportunities for a range of sounds widened. This broad technique is heard on the 12-minute title track opener. Massed horns (clarinet, Flugelhorn, saxes, flute, bassoon and piccolo) are balanced alongside piano, a strings unit, guitar, vibes, bass and drums. Different players enter and leave during the lengthy tune, so sometimes the horns drop out, or the rhythm section is spotlighted. Throughout, there are striking touches from the horns, strings and rhythm instruments, which span from bright to dissonant. There is close to a constant sense of eddying as the band progresses from slow to a quicker pacing, and various solo or smaller instrument groupings create distinct portions among the greater whole.

One of the standouts is the nine-minute “Cherry Swing,” a tribute to the late Don Cherry, who initially came to prominence with Ornette Coleman but whose perceptions on improvisation came to the fore on his solo releases. “Cherry Swing,” Lavelle says, “represents the absolute core of my personal philosophy that free jazz never abandoned everything that made jazz what it is. Free jazz, set jazz free to be itself. Everything that makes jazz what it is, and why it’s so great, is even more important to strive for in free jazz.” Lavelle is upfront on cornet, emulating and echoing Cherry’s manner and musical viewpoint, while bass and drums craft a swinging foundation. Vibes are lower in the mix, inserting coloring to the percussive perspective. Banjo appears as well when Jack DeSalvo solos. For the most part, “Cherry Swing” is not a bigger-band setting, although the horns come in toward the conclusion to supply a discordant ending. Another memorable piece is “Knee Braces,” which indicates Lavelle’s issues with knee problems. The nearly ten-minute “Knee Braces” has a melancholy, almost dark nature exemplified by the reflective introduction. The arrangement becomes truly haunting when violinist Laura Ortman takes over, with extended dim tones which are at times reiterated by Gil Selinger’s cello. Ortman shapes a tender emotional magnetism throughout “Knee Braces,” even when other strings and the horns are occasionally utilized.

Minimalism is supported on the brief, 2:51 “Moonflower Interlude,” a solo spot for bassoonist Claire de Brunner. Lavelle states, this “is a song sung by a secret society of little white flowers that only bloom in the moonlight.” The most poignant piece is the 9:33 “Faith,” dedicated to Lavelle’s mother, who miraculously survived three brain surgeries. Chris Forbes’ introductory piano sets the mood, which sways from peaceful remembrance to a hymn-like invocation accentuated by hand-clapping, Anaïs Maviel’s non-verbal voice, and DeSalvo’s banjo; and from frictional improvising to lyrical asides. Everyone in the ensemble contributes to build up a celebratory responsiveness. Forbes’ gentle solo piano adds the finishing sensitivity. “Faith” is a fully-formed sketch of a deeply-loved personality, and comprises the many feelings one has when thinking about an individual’s life. On Solidarity, Lavelle’s ambition to incorporate composition and improvisation, to stay true to his central philosophy, and to balance melodicism with free jazz has resulted in a commanding debut for his 12 Houses group. - Audiophile Audition

"Lavelle’s scores (and the way they incorporate free improvisation) all have a clear structure, making for a thoroughly rewarding album which, for all its freedom, very much builds on the jazz tradition"

Originally from Pittsburgh, Matt Lavelle has been working in New York since the early 1990s. He played and studied, for a few years from the mid 1980s, with Hildred Humphries, a reed player (alto, tenor, clarinet) who had worked with such luminaries as Basie, Billie Holiday and Roy Eldridge. In 2015 Lavelle wrote a tribute to Humphries, published online at All About Jazz ( ). In 2005 Lavelle began studies with Ornette Coleman which, amongst other things, led to his adding the alto clarinet to his original instrument, the trumpet/cornet. In his piece on Humphries, Lavelle notes that “Unlike most of the young guys today, at 44 I have spent extensive time learning from authentic masters of the Art” and this is very clearly evidenced in his playing. Some of Lavelle’s best work as a soloist and as an improviser in a small group context can be heard on recordings such as the superb Sumari (Unseen Rain, 2014), where he is heard as part of a trio; or on a very interesting duo album (Harmolodic Monk, Unseen Rain 2014) with vibraphone player and percussionist John Pietaro.

Here, on Solidarity the emphasis is on Lavelle’s writing for his big-band ‘12 Houses’ (I am not astrologer enough to recognise the full significance of the name), which has a very interesting instrumental make-up. All the compositions on the album are, I believe, by Lavelle and I presume (I have seen only an advance promotional copy of the CD, which carries no details) the orchestration/arrangements are his too. All the tracks are full of striking timbres and textures (not many contemporary big bands include a banjoist, a bassoonist, a violinist and a cellist!), and all appear to mix scored passages with free or ‘freeish’ improvisation. There are some general affinities with the big band writing of William Parker (with whom Lavelle has worked) and Charlie Haden, but the fons et origo of this music is perhaps to be found in Charles Mingus. As with the music of Mingus, there are moments of near-violence and, alternately, of great delicacy, of spirituality and of political anger; the mood swings from the threnodic and solemn to the joyful, and there are echoes of the music of the Black churches, of thirties and forties swing, and much else.

For all the inevitable focus here on Lavelle’s writing and orchestration, there is some fine solo work from him too, most notably on ‘Cherry Swing’ (which I take to be a tribute to Don Cherry), where he builds a long, coherent solo on the cornet, initially underpinned by some intelligent work at the drums by Ryan Sawyer and then by fine playing from bassist François Grillot, the sections of Lavelle’s solo being separated by noisy ensemble passages or a quirky intervention from Jack DeSalvo’s banjo. At least three of the other tracks reward repeated listening. The opener ‘Solidarity’ has something in common, in terms of (implied) ideology, deep churning textures and the power of its impact, with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra; perhaps finest of all is ‘Brooklyn Mountain’, a sort of free concerto gross built on the interplay between the whole orchestra and a quartet of tenor sax, piano, bass and drums. The relationship between the two (let’s call them ‘ripieno’ and ‘concertino’, as if we were considering a baroque piece) is more antagonistic than cooperative, the heavier sound-weight of the band stimulating the concertino quartet to more and more aggressive and turbulent improvisation; the track which closes the CD, ‘Faith’ begins with some slow and gentle piano musings, then gradually the band assembles around the wordless vocal of Anaïs Maviel, as momentum and volume build and a degree of ‘wildness’ replaces the introspection of the track’s opening; handclapping all-round initiates a lengthy, rampagingly ‘testifying’ section, in which the band sounds like an instrumental version of a particularly ‘possessed’ gospel choir, supporting (and sometimes submerging) the ecstatic vocalisation of Maviel, before the volume and intensity fade away and we are returned to the solo piano of the track’s opening.

Lavelle’s scores (and the way they incorporate free improvisation) all have a clear structure, making for a thoroughly rewarding album which, for all its freedom, very much builds on the jazz tradition. Apart from Lavelle and the other musicians already mentioned, alto sax player Charles Waters, is amongst those whose work deserves a specific mention.

Glyn Pursglove - Music Web International

"Matt Lavelle and the group draw from the length and breadth of jazz history to create powerful and consistently interesting music."

Matt Lavelle is a scholar and musician who has developed a thoughtful and deep philosophy though his blog which informs his music, whether it is with his progressive big band The 12 Houses, or smaller settings like this one. Lavelle plays trumpet, flugelhorn, alto and bass clarinets in the company of Lewis Porter on piano, Hilliard Greene on bass and Tom Cabrera on drums. The album opens with "Matt's Mode" which is a very cordial track that channels the modal music that Miles Davis made with his second great quintet. But the musicians make their own spin on that concept, with Lavelle employing a pleasing and accessible trumpet tone that he uses to solo in an imaginative manner. Porter and the rest of the rhythm team provide an excellent foundation and also make the most of their trio section. There is an unaccompanied opening for clarinet to begin "Tamir Rice" which is dedicated to a young man who tragically died at the hands of the police in 2014. Lavelle pays tribute with an unhurried and emotional clarinet feature which is played with subtle grace. The track opens up after a few minutes with thoughtful rhythmic statements and raw sounding reed giving the music a spiritual vibe. The piano, bass and drums develop a deep groove, which the clarinet joins with them to conclude the performance. "Matt Bop" has a punchy medium-up tempo with Lavelle's trumpet stating a bright and shining theme. He breaks fee for a pleasant solo spot, framed by rippling piano and percussion and strong elastic bass, and everything comes together with tight in the moment modern jazz. A bouncy section for the rhythm team follows before the tune is taken out with exchanges between trumpet and piano. The lengthy "No More Shootings" is the centerpiece of the album, with stoic bowed bass and mournful clarinet stating the theme. Spiritual sounding piano sends rays of hope that lights the darkness and rains down like a sudden cleansing shower. Hollow ringing clarinet gains intensity and reaches a swirling potency leading the band into a free collective improvisation. "Fear Has Got To Go" has tight trumpet and rhythm setting a march like feel. The piano, bass and drums develop a gently swinging statement, tinged with earthy blues. When the trumpet reenters, the music grows to a fine full band interplay, making no-frills hard bop. The concluding piece, "For Taps," opens with rich sounding bass clarinet solo in open space, walking the path that Eric Dolphy paved, accompanied by amiable piano and bowed bass. The music coalesces into a balanced swing and a delightful conversational approach building up to lengthy solo sections that are devoted and energetic. This was an excellent album and shouldn't be missed. Matt Lavelle and the group draw from the length and breadth of jazz history to create powerful and consistently interesting music. Matt Lavelle Quartet - - Music and More

"Matt Lavelle's 12 Houses"

Matt Lavelle plays cornet, flugelhorn and alto clarinet as he conducts a large scale band through a half dozen originals. You get a mix of reeds, woodwinds, strings and various things like vibes, mandola and banjo ere, and the mood is high in experimentation. There is some clever orchestration as on the rich buildup on “Solidarity” before reeds start delivering a shrill and shriek. There’s eerie sighing of the reed section as strings and winds crash around the tenor sax on “Brooklyn Mountain” while foreboding strings and voice prepare you for funereal growling on “Knee Braces.” Chris Forbes’ piano opens up to wailing and swaying reeds that hearken to Asian harmonies on “Faith” just after melancholy reeds squawk on “Moonflower Interlude.” Jarring, thrilling and flailing, comprising a sonic food fight. -

"Matt Lavelle and the 12 Houses"

There’s a majestic feeling to the opening of Solidarity, the title track of a release by Matt Lavelle’s 12 Houses. This reed-heavy 17 piece ensemble also features an extended rhythm section with guitar, piano, banjo, bass, vibes, and drums, along with violin, cello and voice. Some of the places that conductor/composer Lavelle has his unit visit are not unexpected, like saxophonists popping out of the ensemble for brash solos amid flowing and changeable backdrops. But Lavelle is a wily musical organizer who nudges the group into some unexpectedly quiet zones as well as whip them up into a frenzy like the exhilarating last minute of Solidarity. Clearly this is a man who knows well the capabilities and the sounds of the members of the unit. Brooklyn Mountain, which sounds like an excerpt from a longer performance, offers extended interplay among pianist Chris Forbes, tenor saxophone soloist Ras Moshe, and the mass of horns brought in and out of the picture via Lavelle’s conducting. Violinist Laura Ortman and cellist Gil Selinger are prominent on the ethereal but thorny Knee Braces, cushioned by thick swirls of chords from massed reeds and understated rhythms. This partly improvised tone poem is largely soothing and restful, especially when contrasted with some of the other tracks. Lavelle puts on a show for the opening two minutes of Cherry Swing, with a lengthy, cogent, and wide-ranging cornet solo over minimalist percussion accompaniment. When the full band kicks in with a wallop, Lavelle takes a second solo, playing with fiery, rapid-fire gusto. He’s followed by Jack DeSalvo with an ornery banjo solo before the ensemble pours back in to make a mighty noise. While Anaïs Maviel’s voice is usually used as part of the ensemble, her unhinged vocals on the finale, a warped New Orleans-styled collective improvisation are a bit unnerving. But a little shaking up is good for you, at least musically speaking, and if you’ve made it this far, you’ll be having too good a time with Chris Forbes’ rollicking piano and the rhythmic bounce of bass and percussion to be bothered very much. Solidarity presents an unusual big band in a variety of stylistic approaches, held together by Lavelle’s vision and his command of the possibilities of his group. Definitely worth a listen. -

"Ken Waxman on the 12 Houses"

rue believer in the latitude of free jazz, multi-instrumentalist Matt Lavelle has worked in ensembles with such advanced music figures as, William Parker and Butch Morris. Now like a post doctoral fellow ready to take his mentors’ research in new directions, Lavelle has organized a 16-piece band, whose in-the-moment unity splendidly reflects the experiences designated by the horoscope’s 12 houses.

Following the philosophy of post-doc clinicians whose experiments are multi-disciplinary, the six tracks Lavelle created for Solidarity are satisfying because he has blended additional currents into the program. Building on the large group acumen in Parker’s bands and utilizing conduction that Morris initiated, Lavelle, who plays cornet, flugelhorn and alto clarinet here, moves beyond expected jazz tropes and instrumentation. Besides the usual saxophones, piano, guitar, bass and drums, 12 Houses is inhabited by piccolo, bassoon, violin, cello, percussion, banjo and mandolin plus the wordless vocalization of Anaïs Maviel.

The result is chameleon-like themes, which for example have pianist Chris Forbes cracking out dynamic kinetics in “Brooklyn Mountain” as if he was Cecil Taylor on Unit Structures, yet playing so straightforward on “Faith” that the linkage is to 19th Century Romantic tropes, with a detour into a devotee’s parlor for a church hymn.

Besides Lavelle, the standout soloists are alto saxophonist Charles Waters and tenor saxophonist clarinet; Ras Moshe Burnett especially during those moments of altissimo ecstasy, on the title track and elsewhere, as if they were Archie Shepp and John Tchicai on Ascension. Maviel too has the ability to alter her tessitura so that she blends with the strings or doubles the reed parts. Lavelle also harmonizes the bowed and plucked strings to provide interludes of delicate reserve. It’s an indication of his wit and the group’s freedom that as it’s grooving on “Cherry Swing”, prodded by François Grillot’s symmetrical pulse, cadence turn to cacophony when banjoist Jack DeSalvo uncorks a salvo of twangs as if Earl Scruggs has pushed his way into a Count Basie jam.

Solidarity is the equivalent of research that builds on its antecedents to affect a breakthrough. But it’s a lot more fun than a scientific paper – dig the gospel-like handclapping at the climax to “Faith.

— Ken Waxman -


Retrograde (ESP, 2018)

The Matt Lavelle Quartet (Unseen Rain,2017)

Matt Lavelle and the 12 Houses - End Times (Unseen rain,2017)

Harmolodic Monk (Unseen Rain,2016)

Matt Lavelle and the 12 Houses - Solidarity (Unseen Rain,2013)

Goodbye New York, Hello World (Spiritual Power,2010)

Matt Lavelle and Morcilla, the Manifestation Drama (Spiritual Power,2008)

Cuica In The Third House (KMB Jazz,2007)

Matt Lavelle Trio-Spiritual Power" Silkheart, 2006

Trumpet Rising, Bass Clarinet Moon (Spiritual Power,2003)

Handling The Moment (CIMP,2002)



The 12 Houses are a multicultural multigenerational multi-gender large music ensemble rooted in jazz and free jazz led by multi-instrumentalist composer and conductor Matt Lavelle. The orchestra has had as many as 18 members and has performed more than 150 times in the last 12 years, primarily in New York City. Inspired by Lavelle’s studying with Ornette Coleman and being a musician in William Parker’s Little Huey music orchestra, Lavelle has created a group that pulls from and unifies all of jazz history. Ellingtonion Art Baron leads the brass section.