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The Distance - Michael Formanek & Ensemble Kolossus

A large ensemble in the form of a full size jazz orchestra, assembled in 2013 to perform the compositions and arrangements of Michael Formanek. Their first CD, The Distance,on ECM, received Five Stars in Downbeat and much praise in the international media.

Ensemble Kolossus is:
Loren Stillman, Oscar Noriega, Chris Speed, Brian Settles, Tim Berne - Reeds
Dave Ballou, Ralph Alessi, Shane Endsley, Kirk Knuffke - Trumpets
Alan Ferber, Jacob Garchik, Ben Gerstein, Jeff Nelson - Trombones
Patricia Brennan - Marimba
Mary Halvorson - Guitar
Kris Davis - Piano
Michael Formanek - Bass
Tomas Fujiwara - Drums
Mark Helias - Conductor


Accepting donations for Ensemble Kolossus


Upcoming Events

Creative Alliance

September 9thCreative Alliance, Baltimore, MD with Ensemble Kolossus. Rescheduled performance from cancelled date due to January’s major snowstorm. Original tickets can be used for this.

Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation

November 18thAutumn Jazz Festival in Bielsko-Biala, Poland with Ensemble Kolossus.

This engagement is supported by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation through USArtists International in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The Distance - Michael Formanek & Ensemble Kolossus

The Distance (ECM 2484)
Michael Formanek & Ensemble Kolossus


The Distance - Michael Formanek & Ensemble Kolossus (2016)
review and feature article Quotes

John Fordham, The Guardian
“The title track is a vaporous tone-poem of slow horn-section outbreaths and delectable harmonies, while the other tracks comprise Formanek’s ambitious eight-part Exoskeleton suite. The luminous voicings of the 40s Birth of the Cool band or the slinky blues-swing of a Charles Mingus group appear in glimpses, but spiky melodies are as prevalent as mellifluous ones, while no-prisoners solos are bookended by low-register vamps and fast-moving ensemble parts fizzing with chases and echoes. […] a visionary big-band project.”
original link


Jon Garelick, The Boston Globe
“The esteemed bassist and composer Michael Formanek hasn’t led a big-band recording until now, but with this release by his 18-piece Ensemble Kolossus he joins the ranks of state-of-the-art orchestral experimenters […] Working with longtime associates, Formanek nails every element of large-ensemble writing: sustained long forms with continuous development, lucid relationships between improvised and written material, details that ring out as part of a clearly articulated whole. Add to that a deep grasp of knotty grooves, free-form improv, fetching themes, and sweet, sweet swing. The sequencing is peerless […] Extraordinary.”
original link


Mark Sullivan, All About Jazz
“Bassist/composer Michael Formanek playfully calls this 18-piece group Ensemble Kolossus: it represents a bold creative leap forward from his previous quartet recordings ‘Small Places’ (ECM, 2012) and ‘The Rub and Spare Change’ (ECM, 2010). […] ‘The Distance’ is a remarkable achievement, which Formanek's smaller ensembles have only hinted at.”
original link


John Murph, Jazz Times
“The fascinating eight-movement ‘Exoskeleton’ suite occupies the bulk of the disc and functions as its emotional center. Exuding a widescreen cinematic splendor, the suite comes with punchy rhythmic motifs, striking dissonant harmonic stretches, luring melodies and enough improvisational brio to sustain interest during its hour-plus duration […] Formanek’s ‘Exoskeleton’ has the makings of a 21st-century classic. It brims with rich melodicism, textural wonder and sonic imagination.”
original link


Martin Johnson, The Wall Street Journal
“The ensemble has a remarkably intimate and austere sound that gracefully increases to dramatic full-ensemble roars. The core of the recording is an eight-part suite of Mr. Formanek’s called ‘Exoskeleton’. Each segment features stellar solos from the band members, sometimes with section-based harmonies as a sonic backdrop and at other times full orchestral contrasts. […] ‘The Distance’ offers a new blueprint for post-millenial orchestral jazz.”
original link


Dave Gelly, The Observer
“Michael Formanek has reimagined the tones and textures that these 18 familiar instruments can create together, and the result is, to say the least, unsettling. From massive blocks of solid sound to delicate, wandering melodies, this music is bewildering in its sheer, determined difference. But it’s also gripping, because the ensemble acts as a setting for a parade of remarkable soloists.”


Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz
“Unique and complex-yet approachable arrangements, vehemently vivacious soloing and a surprising array—through instrumental interplay—of new ideas on how a jazz orchestra ought to sound. A stunning achievement.”
original link


C.J. Shearn, Jazz Views
“‘The Distance’ is an album that is firmly rooted in the big band tradition while also moving it forward with provocative use of harmony and melody. Formanek, besides being a strong bassist, is a terrific writer, and the music allows the band and their individual talents to shine. The future for the Ensemble Kolossus is intriguing.”
original link


John Ephland, Downbeat (Five stars)
“Filled with engaging small-group sections and a recurring swirl of large-ensemble, angular hoedowns. The mood suggests a drunken or subterranean vibe, with constantly shifting and effective meters, the overall execution more patient than plodding, more like a slow-motion merry-go-round or roller coaster. […] Michael Formanek’s musical world is a kind of gracious envelopment of everyone present.”
original link


Tim Owen, Dalston Sound
“The Distance is hugely rewarding, big fun and fascinating by turns, and substantially expands on Formanek’s ECM quartet blueprint and all those acknowledged precedents. The ensemble has a big band’s heft for sure, with particular riches of timbre in the low end, but also a dextrousness and cogency that lets all of its members’ individualities count for something: a magnificent piece of work.”
original link


Kevin Le Gendre, Jazzwise
“Packed with bandleaders in their own right, Kolossus gels powerfully as an ensemble in which composed and improvised parts fit into a strong conceptual core. The balance struck between understatement and emphasis – and the overall narrative richness – is such that the music works as much as a caress in the twilight as it does a punch under a harsh neon glare […] A work of impressive gravity rather than bombast, ‘The Distance’ is an epic that more than justifies its grand scale and lofty ambition.”


Kevin Le Gendre, Echoes
“Kolossus gels powerful as an ensemble in which composed and improvised parts fit into a strong conceptual core. The balance struck between understatement and emphasis - and the overall narrative richness - is such that the music works as much as a caress in the twilight as it does a punch under a harsh neon glare.”


Cormac Larkin, Irish Times
“Formanek has created a work of arresting originality, connecting the ambiguous harmonies of Oliver Messiaen to the freedom of Charles Mingus, one that captures a moment in music, but one that will surely, with time, prove timeless.”
original link


Nick Lea, Jazz Views
“This quite simply is a magnificent album, both in terms of the magnitude of the undertaking in bringing together the 18 strong Ensemble Kolossus, and in the depth and richness of the writing. Having recorded two critically acclaimed small group sessions for ECM, ‘The Rub and Spare Change’ (2010) and ‘Small Places’ (2012), this represents a big leap forward and one that Formanek has made appear an easy transition. In assembling the large ensemble the bassist has sought the services of not just colleagues past and present with whose sound and concept he is intimately familiar but at the same time assembled some of the most forward thinking an innovative players on the New York scene. […] With the Ensemble working its way through Formanek's suite, the unified concept of the band as a living and breathing singular entity is firmly felt and amidst the sonic palette drawn from the organ works of Messiaen, and a nod to the orchestrations of Charles Mingus, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill and Sun Ra the scope of this extraordinary music becomes apparent. Despite, or maybe even because of this, somehow Ensemble Kolossus have gelled together with Michael Formanek's concept and each other that the bassist feels able to further loosen the reins, and gives the final movement, 'Part VIII - Metamorphic' over to a full ensemble collective improvisation that is full of vitality and depth of purpose that it fits as a natural finale to what has gone before. Contemporary big band writing, arranging and performance does not get much better than this.”