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Ensemble rearranges Bjork but retains the beauty

At the Regattabar Thursday night, Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra proved its point nicely: The music of the Icelandic pop star Bjork does indeed make a splendid launching pad for big-band jazz arrangements and improvisation.

The 18-piece group opened with a medley of Bjork's overture to the 2000 film ''Dancer in the Dark" (in which she also starred) and her song ''Hyper-Ballad." The piece began quietly, with four of the five wind-section members on clarinet, and built to a deft, robust tenor sax solo by Sean Nowell.

''Alarm Call," one of four tunes culled from the album ''Homogenic," had a jazzy swing feel to it and featured a trombone solo from Scott Grant, an old University of New Hampshire buddy of Sullivan's and one of a handful of musicians subbing for a Bjorkestra regular on Thursday.

''Hunter" featured Kelly Pratt in two roles. His arrangement, which included a pulsing horn section vaguely reminiscent of Ravel's ''Bolero," was the only one not written by Sullivan himself. And he took the tune's only solo on trumpet. Michael Carey was then featured twice on ''Cocoon," with a tenor sax solo followed by some interweaving of improvised lines with trombonist Andrew Gold.

The set hit its peak midway through, with ''Army of Me" and ''Unravel" arriving back to back. The former had some fine muted trumpet work from Alicia Rau early on. Vocalist Diana Kazakova's lines ''And if you complain once more, you'll meet an army of me" were followed by two frenzied bursts of horn cacophony, which led to a Dimitri Moderbacher baritone sax solo over Danny Zankert's funky electric bass line and an impressive extended soprano sax solo by Arun Luthra.

Kazakova, who handled Bjork's lyrics with aplomb throughout, shone her brightest on ''Unravel," a hauntingly beautiful and affecting ballad sung as a duet with Sullivan on piano.

''Who Is It," ''All Is Full of Love," and ''Human Behaviour" followed in quick succession, with Sullivan playing some excellent alto saxophone and Kelly Powers taking his place at the piano. The band hit a second peak with its closing number, ''It's Oh So Quiet," with Kazakova alternating super-soft passages with old-school, big-band belting, the Bjorkestra delightedly kicking out the jams behind her on the loud parts.

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