Paul Rucker

In music, bloat is usually a bad thing, but not in the case of the Paul Rucker Large Ensemble. I consider myself fortunate to have witnessed this rarely seen 18-piece big band at the 2004 Earshot Jazz Festival.

Led by cellist/composer Paul Rucker, this elephantine ensemble stomped through tunes like "Sea March," which squawks up rowdy, Sun Ra–inspired Dixieland polyphony, and the skittery "Upbringing," with violins buzzing and razzing like electrified insects. Rucker also garnered laughs and hearty calls of "Encore!" for his Fluxus-inspired "The Benefits of War." The exuberant performance was a triumph and, fortunately, recorded.

To celebrate the release of the resulting CD, Paul Rucker Large Ensemble Live at Earshot (Jackson Street), Rucker has reconvened the band to reprise the tunes from that memorable concert. One of the rare instances of so many Seattle-based avant and straight-ahead improvisers sharing a stage, the lineup includes Tari Nelson-Zagar (violin), Mark Taylor (saxophone), Geoff Harper (bass), Byron Vannoy (drums), Gust Burns (piano), and too many other fine players to list here. Don't miss it.

And though Mozart's opera Così Fan Tutte cannot help being bloated—each act clocks in at nearly 90 minutes—it passes my two tests of comic opera: The singing was uniformly delectable in both casts and I laughed even the second time through. Little touches like the musical puns on cell-phone ringtones, the whitish beige set design that at once evokes hastily built plush Wallingford townhomes and vintage Italian Carrara marble, and the scene-stealing subtitles ("You are the most righteous of babes") make this Così a winner.

The Paul Rucker Large Ensemble play two shows Sun Mar 12 at ConWorks, 500 Boren Ave N, 381-3218, 2 and 8 pm, $9–$18.

Così Fan Tutte concludes Fri Mar 10 and Sat Mar 11 at McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St, 389-7676, 7:30 pm, $20–$141.