(as Cadence is still print-only, we can't link to their review. But here's what they said in their July 2015 review of volume i: this is not the answer.

Kyle Saulnier’s ambitious work for The Awakening Orchestra, Volume I: This Is Not the Answer, originated from his bitter disillusionment in American society. This disaffection inspired his passionate tour de force, which musically unifies related themes into a comprehensive assertion. Saulnier certainly chose an appropriate title for his piece, for he complains (in words) about “despair being the defining emotion of my generation” and about “the failure of the American democratic experiment.” Weighty subjects those are—and not subjects that may be described by a single motive. Their importance lies in the fact that they led to a unique and masterful work that borrows from many of Saulnier’s earlier influences. Those influences catalyze into a superbly performed and unremittingly emotionally charged statement.

This isn’t the first time that jazz has expressed cries for social justice, from We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite to Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. The frequency of such albums has accelerated within recent years as moral indignation has risen. Like similar recordings, Volume 1: This Is Not the Answer literally does not attempt to suggest answers to pressing social issues. Instead, as Saulnier states, it “is simply [my italics emphasizing the irony of the word] an expression of the truest and deepest outrage.” That outrage attains strength throughout this noteworthy album. At the same time, listeners can appreciate Volume 1 for the richness of its musical value. Saulnier is a composer and arranger certainly deserving of considerable attention.

The members of the 20-piece Awakening Orchestra are fully committed to the project and possess a thorough understanding of Saulnier’s vision. No doubt he chose the orchestra’s musicians with care. Not only do they provide searing solos, full of their own evocative talent and personal passions, but also they engage in the memorable unity of sound that distinctive orchestras project.

The baritone sax emerges on the album as a frequently heard solo instrument, including as the one introducing the first track, “Prelude & Fanfare: The Prophet”—and thus the entire extended musical treatise. The bari’s at-first tentative and understated call, as if an awakening, rouses the muted trumpet into full unrestrained sound. Then James Shipp’s sustained vibraphonic glow gives way to drummer Will Clark’s rhythm and force. The orchestra’s initially amorphous musical conversation swells into a loud accented, unified statement, not to be denied, and thus “Fanfare” occurs.

And so it goes through much of the album. Astounding movements release the potential power of the orchestra to claim the listener’s attention through dynamic contrasts, engaging themes and superlative individual contributions. Andrew Gutauskas’s baritone sax commences (beautifully and delicately, I might add, with his devoted attention to tone) the theme of “The Words, They Fail to Come,” accompanied only by Aaron Kotler’s repetitive piano pattern, as the piece moves from thoughtfulness to unthrottled anger. The orchestra, with a sudden blast, suggests, through cinematic visualization via music, the occurrence of rage. The track evolves into a memorable extended performance for Gutauskas, as his solo moves through emotional colors as unpredictably as a mind’s moods shift in agitation.

Each composition within the album could receive similar appreciation in even more detail. After all, each of them is the successful result of Saulnier’s painstaking attention, passionate commitment and talent deserving of much more attention. Today’s jazz listeners certainly benefit from the growth, probably unrecognized amid the accumulation of sporadically released recordings, of superb jazz orchestras whose leaders catalyze the decades of music they studied into exceptional personalized works. This is one of those, organized by an overriding, animating theme.

The palette that Saulnier uses is a vibrant one. His versatility and wide-ranging interests are reflected in the album’s stylistic breadth. “Myxomatosis” receives explication and mysterious suggestion from vocalist Nathan Hetherington’s lyrical interpretation, combining, as do the instrumentalists, individuality with community. As would be expected, initial judgments about a Saulnier piece prove to be misleading as the orchestra elaborates upon the motive with beauty and strength.

Disk 2 contrasts, through classical fullness of sound and relative peacefulness, with all that preceded it on Disk 1 by performing an adaptation of Johannes Brahms’s “6 Pieces for Piano, Op. 118, No. 2, Intermezzo in A minor,” as if it were the opening composition of a play’s second act. Instead of including on the Orchestra’s first album, as is often the temptation, all of Saulnier’s interests, the “Intermezzo” serves as a connecting piece between the two halves. And it connects to the album’s most complex, most fervent and most thematically relevant piece, its centerpiece, the four-part suite, “This Is Not the Answer.” The suite transports the listener from the “Overture’s” pulsing and ominous soundscapes and the third movement’s growing cacophony of fury to the gorgeous shifting colors of “The Hypocrite and the Hope.” Again, Saulnier knows exactly what he wants from his Orchestra as he conducts his masterpiece, and it delivers. While it’s tempting to compare Saulnier’s style of flowing long lines and broad sonic spectrums to Gil Evans’s—certainly not a four-beats-to-the-measure percussive big band feel—Saulnier has developed his own orchestral approach. And certainly Saulnier’s works are more message-driven than Evans’s.

Two standards not only help to advance Saulnier’s message, but provide further evidence of his skills at arranging music with the mixture of individuality and a blossoming, rich orchestra sound. The title of “Alone Together” doesn’t just support his assertion of social protest, but its secondary title of “Flying Colors” has double meaning, appropriate too. Saulnier’s arrangement uses the song’s melody as a departure point for full-fledged beauty that features each of the ochestra’s sections—a showpiece eventually going modal in a Coltrane quartet kind of way, especially with Tyner-like chords underneath. Until it’s something else entirely again. The mood shifts, anchored by bass trombone and lightened by flute.

Saulnier’s choice of the final song for his recording, “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo,” sung by Seth Fruiterman over minimal, straightforward accompaniment, is a strange one. We would expect a final enraged shout. Instead, we get the lyrics’ wry observations over sonic suggestions of a circus atmosphere, akin to “Is That All There Is?” After The Awakening Orchestra takes us through a broad range of supercharged emotions throughout the album, courtesy of Saulnier’s ambition and arrangements, “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo” concludes the musical journey with quirkiness and placidity, as if in resignation. One would expect the ardent resentment powering This Is Not the Answer to remain undiminished at its finish.
— Bill Donaldson, Cadence Magazine, Vol. 41 No. 3