Ayn Inserto

Composer Arranger Educator Conductor



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Downbeat Reviews - Down A Rabbit Hole Review

Composer and arranger Ayn Inserto enlisted three superb soloists for Down A Rabbit Hole, the first album in 10 years from her namesake orchestra. Trumpeter Sean Jones, tenor saxophonist George Garzone and trombonist John Fedchock add essential spice to the proceedings here. The three guests unleash fluid, powerful solos on the album opener, the nine-minute Inserto composition "Three And Me." The album cover art-a Kendall Eddy painting-depicts Jones, Garzone and Fedchock as giants playing their instruments against the skyline of Boston, where Inserto, an associate professor of jazz composition at Berklee College of Music, is based.

The bandleader conducts an agile, 17-piece ensemble made up of peers, friends, longtime collaborators and even family. (Her husband, Jeff Claassen, is the lead trumpeter, and this recording features the work of three married couples.) Inserto has crafted a program that feels completely natural as big band music and includes five of her compositions. Some lesser orchestrators nowadays falter when they seize music originally penned for a combo and clumsily rework it with an arrangement that's actually ill-suited for a large ensemble. But Inserto-who studied with Bob Brookmeyer (1929-2011)- delivers a program that gracefully exploits the strengths of big band instrumentation, as evidenced by her two-part suite titled "Part I: Ze Teach" and "Part II: And Me." Elsewhere, Inserto offers a superb arrangement of Jones' "BJ's Tune," providing a showcase for the trumpeter's sumptuous tone. This album strikes the perfect balance between entertaining artistry and finely crafted arrangements that could be studied closely in the classroom.

Bobby Reed - Click here for full review on Downbeat

Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra At The Lilypad - AllAboutJazz.com

As a protege of legendary trombonist/arranger/composer Bob Brookmeyer at New England Conservatory in Boston, The Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra was part of a very special tribute last March when she treated the audience to a pre-release performance of the title composition from her current release Down the Rabbit Hole (Summit Records, 2018). Fronting an orchestra of 17 plus seasoned and exceptional musicians, many of whom loyal to her since inception in 2001, Inserto delivered a powerhouse feat of playing the entire release in one set hour. To appreciate the physical challenges as well, one has only to picture a garage-sized space offered by the intimate, warm surroundings of the Lilypad jazz café in Cambridge. Un-daunted and at ease, Inserto flawlessly conducted her stellar orchestra through a myriad of contemporary and experimental original compositions, finishing with a jazz-take on The Jackson Five's "I'll Be There."

The evening featured well established and renown jazz musician John Fedchock on trombone, along with award-winning bass trombonist Jennifer Wharton, and Inserto's backbone trumpet and saxophone section that were in-sync and note-clean from her first conducting hand signal. Each piece was a part of a compositional story, with a carefully chosen conceptual framework. Inserto's inspiration for the title composition "Down the Rabbit Hole" came directly from her muse and heart, drawing inspiration from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (one of her husband's favorite books) and the remembrance of the period of time they were dating, and when she fell in love. In her pre-release performance at NEC in March of this year she explained her influence, "The Brookmeyer techniques I used for this piece were a combination of the pitch module and white noise exercise." It delivers a "musical cyclone," as Inserto's lively conducting compliments spirited horn solos and some frenetic fast paced tempos that add to the beat that drives this piece.

Doug Hall - Click here for full review on AllAboutJazz.com

The Vinyl Anachronist - Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra's Down a Rabbit Hole

Of all the big band jazz recordings I've reviewed over the last year, this might be the first orchestra led by a woman. I'm presenting this as objectively as possible, but shouldn't women bandleaders be more of a thing? There are plenty of female jazz musicians and certainly singers, not to mention composers. I'm a bit surprised by this. Other than Carla Bley and Maria Schneider, I can't think of another.

With Down a Rabbit Hole, we have a leader in Ayn Inserto, a composer, arranger and educator who was born in Singapore but was raised in Bay Area and now is a fundamental part of the Boston jazz scene. As her biography reveals, she started taking piano lessons as a child and "learned to read chords from a book of Disney tunes and soon started substituting her own chord choices to make the songs sound more interesting." That certain sounds like the birth of an exciting new talent, and soon she was studying jazz piano while playing the organ for her church choir, a venue where she was able to learn how to improvise, strangely enough. Her history sounds like a primer for independent musical thinking, and that shows up in her arrangements. She has a distinctly melodic approach to big band jazz, and her signature is bright and colorful.

"The trick about falling down rabbit holes is knowing how to get back out," the liner notes explain, and Inserto's gift is cleverness--especially the way her compositions constantly shift in unexpected ways. With the help of gifted soloists Sean Jones (trumpet), John Fedchock (trombone) and George Garzone (tenor sax), her music is always playful and positive without pandering to the audience or depriving the content of emotional depth. There is a happiness throughout these seven songs--mostly originals except for a stunningly original take on Berry Gordy's "I'll Be There"--and Inserto's approach is always one of enthusiasm and gusto. As I've said before, big band jazz is supposed to be somewhat flashy and dynamic with only occasional sojourns into ballads and sad songs, but her orchestra is downright vivacious.

I'm also impressed with the sound quality on this recording, which was captured on the Shames Family Scoring Stage at Berklee in Boston. Take the opening moments of the first track, "Three and Me," and the way drummer Austim McMahon's ride cymbal sounds so intimate and pure--as in a trio recording. There's a sensitivity to scale here, which goes hand in hand with Inserto's keen sense of dynamic control, and that helps to spread out that big band sound so the individual components aren't buried in a wall of sound. While much of this is in the realm of recording engineer and mixer Mark Wessel and mastering engineer Rich Breen, it's Inserto herself who has produced this album as well, along with co-producers Fedchock and Jeff Claassen. This places Inserto in the "force of nature" category, where she has mastered a vision of big band jazz that is exciting and original and worth seeking out.

Marc Phillips - Click here for full review on Vinyl Anachronist

Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra - Expose.org

There's no telling what will come your way when you write about music, and Ayn Inserto was a new name for me, but she has been composing and conducting orchestrated big band music for around 17 years now with four releases to her credit. The band features 17 regular members (four trumpets, three trombones, bass trombone, five wind players on all forms of saxes, flute, clarinet, plus guitar, piano, bass and drums) plus three special guests: trumpeter Sean Jones, trombonist John Fedchock, and George Garzone on tenor sax. Inserto for her part composed everything except two tracks (of seven total), arranged everything, and conducts the group. Throughout the set the group pushes the boundaries of modern big-band jazz with creativity, energy, and pure magic, with emotion, power, and restraint on display with every measure. Inserto has a percussion background (mallets) which, although not employed here, comes through clearly in her savvy arrangements. Let's talk about that last track for a minute; it was the first one here to catch my ear, a vaguely recognizable melody following a piano intro, all inside a hauntingly beautiful arrangement. Turns out it's "I'll Be There," a full-on big band arrangement of a song that was a hit for the Jackson Five way back in 1970. The title track is based on a crunchy riff by the rhythm section and features Garzone in a powerful sax solo that's clearly one of the album's highlights. The opener "Three and Me" and it's follow-on "BJ's Tune" (written by Sean Jones) are two that push all the right buttons for those that like complexity and colorful arrangements that evoke warmth and power, shifting gears regularly, the latter offering a more paced platform and a spotlight for Jones' trumpeting, and together they offer an album side's worth of pure amazement right out of the gate. The third cut, "Mister and Dudley," takes a more playful approach, starting with a catchy melody for winds, alternating with trombone, this is probably after many listens the piece that grabs my attention the most here. There's a lot more here to captivate the attuned listener, not the least of which is the two part suite "Ze Teach" and its follow-on "And Me," the latter a romp through an endless maze of shifting measures, intriguing and sometimes crazy, but still easy on the ears. I hope to hear more of Inserto soon as I track down all of her previous releases, but this one serves as a powerful introduction.
Peter Thelen - Click here for full review on Expose

Musicalmemoir's Blog - Down A Rabbit Hole Review

"Ayn Inserto brings fresh ideas and vivid writing skills to her orchestration and arranging. This seventeen-piece orchestra executes her compositions and arrangements with flare, talent and excitement. Her CD cover pictures Alice in Wonderland (in this case Ayn in Wonderland) climbing out of a rabbit hole. Artist/bass player, Kendall Eddy has painted a small army of men pointing at three musical giants who are playing trombone, saxophone and trumpet. Obviously,those are her three dear friends, Fedchock, Garzone and Jones. Ayn Inserto invites the listener to embrace her musical gifts and these very fine musical giants who represent an orchestra that has no problem chasing the rabbit and the music 'Down a Rabbit Hole'."

Dee Dee McNeil - Click here for full review on Musicalmemoirs

Midwest Record - Down A Rabbit Hole Review

"Back with their first new record in a decade, this crew's left leaning tendencies make the title an apt choice. Without going for creativity for the sake of creativity, they push the envelope lightly but firmly giving your ears a big band breath of fresh air. Guest stars bring their chops and add to the proceedings nicely. A solid set for those looking for something out of the ordinary that respects their ears."

Chris Spector - midwestrecord.com

Adventuresome big-band jazz exploration Ayn Inserto - Down A Rabbit Hole Review

"...as you can see and hear, Ayn is totally engaged, and it's clear that her scintillating energy is infectious for the orchestra...

Ayn has a guest lineup you wouldn't believe...John Fedchock, trombone; George Garzone, tenor sax; Sean Jones, trumpet...one tune where the power she projects through her excellent skills as a director (and I know you'll agree) is the 8:45 opener, "Three and Me"...at that length, there's plenty of room for each of the soloists to shine brilliantly - and they surely, surely do - full-bodied, total energy and full-tilt jazz! Just SUPERB work from everyone!"

Dick Metcalf - Click here for full Review on contemporary fusion reviews.com

Fresh Big Bands - Down A Rabbit Hole Review

"Ayn Inserto conducts, arranges and composes the material for his Jazz Orchestra, which features all star guests John Fedchock/tb, George Garzone/ts and Sean Jones/tp for some hip soloing.

All three take turns on the fun and Monkish "Three and Me" that has the sections bouncing back and forth, while Jones is velvety on "BJ's Tune." Austin McMahon's drums and high hat lead the charge for Garzone's thick sax on the title track and coaxes his cymbals around the relaxed strut of "Mister and Dudley" for Fedchock. The ringer here is an elegiac take of the Michael Jackson hit "I'll Be There" that features a gorgeous intro by pianist Jason Yeager. This is an album filled with rich and toe tapping ideas."

George W. Harris - Jazz Weekly.com Review

Ayn Inserto honors her late, great mentor in a new piece

"It's not uncommon for an artist to attend a school in pursuit of a specific mentor. For the composer Ayn Inserto, that school was New England Conservatory, the mentor, Bob Brookmeyer. Inserto had solid training behind her already - at Cal State Hayward, not far from her family's East Bay home, with the esteemed trombonist, bandleader, and educator Dave Eshelman. But she wanted to take her work to the next level, and for jazz composition, Brookmeyer - whose students have included Maria Schneider, John Hollenbeck, and Darcy James Argue - was the man. Inserto was first drawn to Brookmeyer when, as a pianist in a big band during her freshman year, she played his "Ding Dong Ding." She was drawn to his music's linear drive, that it was completely modern, and yet swinging. "Also, at the time," she says, "he was one of the few greats that was actually teaching at a graduate program. The opportunity was surreal."

When the Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra crams into the tiny Lily Pad in Cambridge on Monday night, the show will probably include work from Inserto's latest CD, "Home Away From Home: Colours Jazz Orchestra Plays the Music of Ayn Inserto," recorded in 2013 with the Italian band of the title. But the centerpiece will be the Boston premiere of "Ze Teach and Me," dedicated to Brookmeyer. "The first movement is about Bob, and the second movement is me," says Inserto. "Ze Teach," she explains, was Brookmeyer's sign-off in e-mails. Inserto, now a professor of composition at Berklee, studied with Brookmeyer as she was earning her master's degree at NEC in 1999-2001. She continued studying with him informally until his death in 2011. Her 2006 debut CD, "Clairvoyance," featured Brookmeyer as a trombone soloist.

Inserto had applied to NEC as a piano performance major. But Allan Chase, then the conservatory's chair of jazz studies and now himself at Berklee, heard her lead a performance of one of her original compositions at an International Association of Jazz Educators conference in Anaheim, Calif. Recalls Chase: "I said, Wow! OK!"

What Chase heard that day wasn't "the standard textbook of how to arrange for a big band, but an original composition, with personality, originality, and ideas. It had a lot of spark." As an undergraduate, Inserto was already skillfully deploying modern harmonies most young composers struggle with in graduate school. Chase, now a member of Inserto's band, concluded that she "was a strong pianist, but an amazing composer."

Inserto's "spark" is fully evident on "Home Away From Home": the ecstatic, helter-skelter breaks for drums and horns and the weave of simultaneous trumpet and soprano sax solos on opener "You're Leaving? But I Just Got Here"; the melancholy tone-poem harmonies of "Wintry Mix"; an evocative deconstruction of the Joe Henderson classic "Recorda Me"; the playful funk of "Hang Around"; the lovely melody and languid waltz rhythm of "La Danza Infinita."

Inserto steers away from conventional jazz arrangements in which a series of soloists improvise over the same short tune. Instead, a soloist improvises over a continually unfolding narrative. The idea that an improvised solo should serve the piece as a whole was central to Brookmeyer's teaching. "He really didn't want you to just stick a solo in there," says Inserto. "The soloist is there to take us to the next part of the piece. Bob would ask, 'You put a soloist here, what's the purpose? What are you going to give the soloist to help him or her relate to the tune?' "

Chase gives a hint of what makes Inserto's pieces appealing for players and listeners alike: "They're hard, but not too hard." Rhythms and note patterns, he says, "lay well" on the instruments, but they're never predictable. "I'm by far the oldest member of the band," says Chase, 59. "And I'm totally on the edge of my seat playing the music. It's like flying an airplane into the Grand Canyon: You can do this, but don't make a wrong turn."

Inserto laughs as she says that she likes to "end with something simple" as we put the band through enough torture." Thus the salsa romp "Subo" that ends "Home Away From Home." She also likes to cook, so there's always food at Inserto rehearsals. Inserto prefers a bit more dissonance in her work than Brookmeyer did in his pieces, but she wants her music to be accessible too. Brookmeyer, she says, always counseled: "You need to take your ear off and put it on the piano," and hear the piece with the objectivity of an audience. These days she sees herself drawing more, in pieces like "Hang Around," on the hip-hop, funk, and pop she grew up with. Brookmeyer, she says, "is always in my head, nagging me, but I also feel like I can trust myself more."

- By Jon Garelick, Boston Globe, JUNE 25, 2015

Home Away from Home CD Review

"The title of Boston composer/arranger Ayn Inserto's third album wasn't arbitrarily chosen. More to the point, Home Away From Home alludes to the recording's unique background. A number of years ago, Italian trombonist Massimo Morganti caught a performance at the Berklee Performance Center by the Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra featuring trombonist Bob Brookmeyer (Inserto's jazz composition teacher at the New England Conservatory) and tenor saxophonist George Garzone, both of whom contributed to her debut album, Clairvoyance, in 2006. Suitably impressed, Morganti arranged for her to travel to Italy for a series of workshops with his Colours Jazz Orchestra and, having established a strong rapport with the band, Inserto returned the following year for a number of performances featuring material now documented on her follow-up to 2009's Muse.

...Certainly traces of Brookmeyer's influence are evident in her work (Gil Evans's, too), but that's only natural. More important is the fact that Inserto has over the past decade developed her own voice and produced an impressive collection of original work. Rich in harmony and colour, her music holds up perfectly well alongside others in the same field, and the stylistic variety and imagination captured on Home Away From Home show her ability to work convincingly in different idioms.

The album features seven pieces, all previously unrecorded and of contrasting character. On the fifty-three-minute date, luscious settings solidly in the big band tradition (Down a Rabbit Hole, for instance) rub shoulders with both a swinging funk piece (Hang Around) and an album-closer that sounds as much calypso-flavoured as Latin-tinged (Subo). Inserto's writing and arranging can be audacious, as shown when the cheekily titled opener You're Leaving? But I Just Got Here begins with a dialogue between drum brushes and soprano saxophone before flowering into a vigorous ensemble arrangement featuring both full band playing and solos, including robust interweaving statements by the soprano saxist and trumpeter.

The band's at its luscious best during the ballad setting La Danza Infinita, beautiful example of Inserto's writing and the Colours Jazz Orchestra's ability to play with elegance and subtlety when the need arises. While it's an especially wonderful showcase for the woodwinds, the horns are as well-served by the piece, too. Also included is a re-imagining of Joe Henderson's Recorda Me, which finds the late artist's persona present in both the bold saxophone solo that appears midway through and the suave melodic resonance of the piece.

Click here for full review at textura.org Home Away from Home CD Review, May 2015.

Muse CD Review

"Ayn Inserto's second recording with her jazz orchestra is grand and sophisticated to a degree as to immediately elevate her status alongside acknowledged influences, and well known, experienced chart makers like Maria Schneider, Bob Belden, and Mark Masters. This Boston based big band plays Inserto's original music, tempered to strict tolerances, read and interpreted precisely and joyously. Main soloist George Garzone is also a powerful figure in the way the music is shaped, but it is his distinct post-John Coltrane tone that establishes a high inspirational standard for all members of the band to follow.

Inserto directs and conducts her charges through eight original pieces individually dedicated to her teachers and influences, which include Dave Eshelman, Bob Brookmeyer, Frank Foster, Steve Lacy, Michael Brecker, personal friends, family, and bandmembers. This is complex music, clearly well rehearsed, compelling and commanding for any astute listener, and firmly placed in the modern mainstream neo-bop contemporary continuum.

Boston saxophonists like Rick Stone, Brian Landrus, Kelly Roberge, Sean Berry, and especially Allan Chase work in tandem with Garzone, while lead trumpeter Jeff Claassen fronts the brass section. A new star to discover is pianist Carmen Staaf, a wonderfully melodic and inventive keyboardist who fills nooks and crannies, and sets the pacing, color palate, and tone for the band nearly as much as Garzone. "Eshel Sketch" kicks off the set with an exuberance indicative of the entire date, a bouncy, happy, childlike piece based on Staaf's dainty, stated figures being cleverly traced by the horns. Stairstep bright lighting flicked repeatedly on and off identifies "A Little Brook," the depth of the composition shaded by a far reaching horizon that mirrors Brookmeyer's modern visage of color balance with little accents of splashed starbursts framed in an easy swing. "Vinifera" pays tribute to Foster, it is a piece commissioned by ASCAP and the now defunct International Association of Jazz Educators' as spiked tips of melody followed by quick counterpoint presents the most intricate construct, far from simple harmonics or dynamics, but lean and mean. Garzone's soprano on "Laced with Love" does not so much assimilate Steve Lacy, but urges the horn section in a mounting, lingering, and slow refrain that he punctuates in characteristic sharp tones, providing a lovely eulogy. Of course Garzone's tenor during "To Michael Brecker," as you would expect, takes into account the free floating no time concept of Coltrane married to Brecker's inexhaustive lyrical mindset. "Snowplace Like Home" (love the title) has Chase and Garzone hopping about on a jumpy repeat theme where their dual soprano saxes push the envelope harmonically, and the closer "Simple" is a basic melody reminiscent of Count Basie, short and sweet, with the exception of a purposefully sour note at the end of the pretty phrase.

Inserto is impressive as a writer of modern jazz, her band is more than up to the task, and there's a real feeling of camaraderie cementing the band as a true working mule team. Especially if you are not familiar with her name and sound, keep Ayn Inserto's Muse in serious consideration for a distinguished place in your collection. It is an excellent representation of what's happening in her virile, imaginative mind, and comes highly recommended."

- Michael G. Nastos, allmusic.com Muse CD Review, February 2009.

Clairvoyance CD Review

"There's an energetic creative force on the horizon named Ayn Inserto, and based on this debut album, she's Maria Schneider on steroids. Boston-based Inserto, an assistant professor at Berklee, arranged all nine tracks and composed six. George Garzone, who is a guest tenorist, wrote the remaining three. The other guest soloist is trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, who happens to be Inserto's mentor. That connection alone gives credence to the album.

Inserto directs and conducts her charges through eight original pieces individually dedicated to her teachers and influences, which include Dave Eshelman, Bob Brookmeyer, Frank Foster, Steve Lacy, Michael Brecker, personal friends, family, and bandmembers. This is complex music, clearly well rehearsed, compelling and commanding for any astute listener, and firmly placed in the modern mainstream neo-bop contemporary continuum.

What you'll hear may be confusing. In Inserto's contemporary mindset, there seems little need for bar lines or, in many instances, tonal centers. Her strength is in creating dense colors and textures, as on Clairvoyance. Sticking with a conventional, 17-piece band, she devises huge, avant-garde canvases filled with clusters (she loves minor seconds). Brookmeyer is laid-back, never deviating from his sophisticated tones, creating a fascinating contrast to Inserto's dissonant backing, particularly on ?hadow Dancing. Garzone, on the other hand, tends to become as anarchic as the band, as on Hey, Open Up. Pianist Kyle Aho takes a very poetic solo on Early Sunday Morning, and there is outstanding rhythmic support from bassist Jeremy Allen and drummer Richie Barshay on 'Lazy Saturday Afternoon.'"

Harvey Siders, Jazz Times.com Clairvoyance CD Review, September 2007

Clairvoyance CD Review

"Ayn Inserto is a young, beautiful and very talented composer who has just made a dramatic entrance into the world of big band jazz, offering a new voice on this debut album. Her music is new and unconventional, striking a different chord than what one usually expects from a big band project. Inserto assembled her sixteen-piece Boston-based orchestra with some of the best local talent. A student of legendary trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, who likens Inserto to Maria Schneider, she recorded this album with her mentor and reed man George Garzone as special guests. Except for three tracks penned by Garzone, the balance consists of original compositions and arrangements provided by the leader.

What is clearly evident here, right from the opening The Mingus That I Knew, is that you will not be treated to a typical big band sound. The charts are sophisticated, with intricate lines and texture characterized by direction-changing moods and tempo. The composer crafted the entire album around her two guests, who provide a slew of tasteful solos.

The opening tune features an impressive performance by Garzone, who continues his assault on tenor and soprano on his own Hey Open Up, Just Blow and the finale, The Chooch, a wild and humorous piece containing the only vocals (also provided by the saxophonist). Bob Brookmeyer shows his stuff on Inserto's Shadow Dancing With a Hint of Gold and Early Sunday Morning, and then shares the spotlight with Garzone on Lazy Saturday Afternoon and the title cut.

I have to be perfectly honest and state that it took me a couple of listens to truly appreciate the fresh new sound that differentiates this album. I suspect that we will be hearing more from Inserto in the future, and rightly so. Ayn Inserto's sophisticated charts and clever arrangements on Clairvoyance serve to harness that energy to create a unique big band sound without the heavy orchestration."

Edward Blanco, allaboutjazz.com, Review of Clairvoyance

John Greenspan, Host of Good Morning Jazz KSFR 90.7 FM Santa Fe

"A New Star on the Horizon - The big band tradition is alive and well. Ayn Inserto is someone to watch. She writes well and the fact that she attracts great musicians on her CD speaks for itself. Good sound too."

John Greenspan, Host of Good Morning Jazz KSFR 90.7 FM Santa Fe, New Mexico, www.ksfr.org

Ben Monder

"Ayn Inserto's music is intricate yet economical, harmonically intriguing, and displays a vast and alluring textural palette. The work remains personal while showing great versatility."

Ben Monder

Bob Brookmeyer

"Ayn Inserto is one the most gifted young composers I have had the pleasure of teaching in many years. She has a "universal" musical language that translates successfully to public and musician alike, but also has a very robust and aggressive side. Her music is crafted beautifully, reminding me -- of course-- of my most famous student, Maria Schneider. There it stops -- Ayn has her own voice her own way and, indeed, is now influencing my newer students at the New England Conservatory. I have chosen to be her mentor because she is a rare bird -- they do not happen very often so I hope and to help her along what promises to be a shining path and a bright future."

Bob Brookmeyer

Fred Hersch

"Ayn Inserto is in the forefront of a new generation of jazz composers who are accomplished, ambitious and truly personal."

Fred Hersch