Who’d have suspected that Johann Sebastian Bach, who died more than 250 years ago, would be making such a strong comback in the twentyfirst century, and in a Jazz context, no less? But here we have the venerated maestro, resurrected first in Bach 2000,
an excellent album by David Matthews and the Manhattan Jazz Orchestra, and now in Bach Brandt New,
in which Germany’s worldclass RIAS Big Band performs marvelous new arrangements of half a dozen Bach themes by the late Helmut Brandt, all but one of them ("Air from the 2nd Orchestral Suite," commonly known as "Air on the G String") from the celebrated WellTempered Clavier.
Brandt, an RIAS mainstay on baritone sax and as composer / arranger from 1959 until his "retirement" in ’96, doesn’t subvert Bach to suit his purposes but uses the composer’s intrinsic ideas as steppingstones to his more contemporary statements. As a result, Bach and modern Jazz coexist far more comfortably than one might have assumed (as indeed they do in Bach 2000
). The Fuga (fugue) lends itself especially well to modern interpretation, and there are three of them (XI, XX and XXI) on the program interspersed with the "Air" and Präludia (preludes) XI and XXII. The RIAS ensemble plays them respectfully but never forsakes swinging in pursuit of authenticity. Brandt’s approach, in what must have been one of his last assignments (the album was recorded in June 2000, a little more than a year before his passing), is to establish a musical dialogue in which Bach’s timeless themes remain largely intact (a wise decision, as no one could improve upon them) and lead to Jazz motifs based on their harmonic chords and variations, the same technique used so successfully by arranger Matthews and the MJO in Bach 2000.
Each section of Brandt New
features one or more of the RIAS band’s resourceful soloists - guitarist Ingo Cramer, bassist Christian Diener, drummer Holger Nell ("Fuga XX"); Cramer, Nell, bass clarinetist Gregoire Peters, pianist Wolfgang Köhler, soprano Norbert Nagel ("Präludium XXII"); Peters (clarinet), trombonist Dan Gottshall, trumpeter Christian Grabandt ("Fuga XXI"); Peters (tenor sax) on "Air"; Köhler, trombonists Gottshall and John Marshall, soprano Mark Wyand ("Präludium XI"); tenor Walter Gauchel ("Fuga XI"). The ensemble is letterperfect, as always, which renders even more disheartening the report that it could soon be disbanded for lack of funds. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, as it would be a great loss not only for Germany but for bigband enthusiasts the world over.
Contact:Mons Records, Taubenplatz 42, 67705 Trippstedt, Germany. Web site, www.monsrecords.de; email firstname.lastname@example.org
Personnel: Norbert Nagel, music director, alto, soprano sax, clarinet; Helmut Brandt, composer, arranger; Mark Wyand, alto, soprano sax; Walter Gauchel, Joe Ridder, tenor sax, flute; Gregoire Peters, tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet; Rolf von Nordenskj