Another largely “amateur” German big band whose remarkable proficiency would be the envy of many a professional ensemble. As near as I can understand from the liner notes (I neither speak nor read German), the band was formed in 1988 in connection with the state music school and produced its first recording (this one) in 1996 with two special guests, trumpeter Hans–Peter Salentin and expatriate American alto saxophonist Charlie Mariano. The two appear together on Salentin’s funky shuffle, “One for Greg,” while Salentin solos on another of his breezy compositions, “Dear Claudio,” and Mariano is heard again on Peter Linhart’s “Odie” and his own “Plum Island.” Mariano, who has been associated for a number of years with free or avant–garde Jazz, treads a more accessible path here, sounding for all the world like the dazzling phrase–maker who once earned an enviable reputation as a leading West Coast bopper. Salentin is a talented modernist from the Randy Brecker school, while Linhart, who directs the band from his tenor chair, displays superlative Bob Mintzer–like chops on Mintzer’s resolutely swaying “Tunnel” and takes another impulsive ride on Andy Weiner’s unremitting swinger, “Cruisin’ for a Bluesin’.” Other admirable soloists include alto Markus Lihocky (“Cruisin’ for a Bluesin’,” “Dear Claudio”), pianist Harald Kern (“Odie,” “Plum Island”), tenor Wolfgang Hussy (“Peppermintz”), trombonist Stefan Funk (Matt Harris’ fiery, Latin–flavored “Cabeza de Carne,” on which drummer Jan Wilk and percussionist Piesba Supertino deftly stoke the flames), soprano Wolfram Endemann and guitarist Michael Hess (Linhart’s super–cool “Hip Cat Blues”). Of course, no big band is stronger than its rhythm section, and Aschaffenburger has an audacious and emphatic group led by Wilk (who assumes command immediately on “Cruisin’ for a Bluesin’”) and including Kern, Hess, Supertino and bassist Robert Oursin. Brass and reeds are similarly assertive and capable, rounding out a marvelous ensemble whose impressive debut is as entertaining as it is admirable.
Track listing: Cruisin’ for a Bluesin’; Odie; Cabeza de Carne; The Tunnel; One for Greg; Plum Island; Peppermintz; Dear Claudio; Hip Cat Blues (55:39).