The NOW Orchestra is keen on working with guest artists, either workshop or residence style. Past collaborators have included René Lussier (Le Tour du Bloc) and George Lewis (The Shadowgraph Series). These previous projects cast the outside musician/composer as a featured guest. Pola puts Marilyn Crispell in the role of an integrated guest -- which probably explains why the album is billed to the NOW Orchestra with Crispell, and not the other way around, as was the case with the Lussier and Lewis projects. The grande dame's piano is not mixed front center; she is not taking one solo after another, either. She is simply playing with the orchestra, as part of the orchestra. She also contributes one composition, the 15-minute "Yin Yang," which gives the NOW quite a workout. High in dynamics, with excellent use of the band's skillful brass section, the piece is an exhilarating run for your money.
Ron Samworth's "M.C." (a set of initials that should be easy to solve) is where the pianist is featured the most and offers another highlight. Artistic director, conductor, and sax player Coat Cooke penned the other four pieces, including the punchy three-minute conduction "Pola" and the concluding "Suffused with Blue Light," a delicate work with recitation by vocalist Kate Hammett-Vaughan, who is otherwise underused on this album. Every instrument in this 14-piece big band is exquisitely recorded and separated, giving all the more "whoomp" to the massed trumpets and trombones. Some fans of Crispell will probably feel she deserved a bigger spotlight, but the NOW Orchestra is always worth a listen, with or without her. ~~ All Music Guide
“I regard the Now Orchestra as one of the finest large creative ensembles active in the last decade. The combinations of high levels of individual creativity and virtuosity with a strong sens of collectivity is a rare and treasured combinaison that the Now Orchestra manifests very strongly...” ~~ George Lewis