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Metropole Orkest: Conducted by Rob Pronk (2004)

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Although mentioning Rob Pronk's name to jazz fans here in the States would presumably elicit no more than blank stares, musicians—especially those in the Netherlands—know him well, as Pronk has been a renowned jazz luminary in that country for many years, earning the prestigious Nordring Radio Prize in 1981 and Blaupunkt Music Award in 1988 for his composing and arranging prowess.

To help celebrate Pronk's seventy-fifth birthday, the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra (Metropole Orkest), for whom he was named principal guest conductor in 1975, has produced this splendid compilation of arrangements by Pronk spanning a twenty-year period (1982-2002), chosen not by their author but by members of the orchestra from among the many hundreds of charts he has written for them.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the Metropole Orchestra, it is one of the few—perhaps the only—contemporary professional ensemble that employs a full string section to complement the usual brass, reeds and rhythm, which means that anyone who arranges for the Metropole must perform a precarious balancing act, integrating the string section but never allowing it to overshadow the core group, which keeps the jazz component flowing and swinging. Pronk is especially adept at this, which one can readily appreciate when listening to this multifaceted album. Besides arranging all of the selections, Pronk composed half a dozen—"Frosted Black," "S'moo Bloose," "For Birgit," "As the Town Slid Beneath Us," "At Dawn" and a picturesque four-movement suite, "The Final Round."

The album opens with "John Brown's Body" (a.k.a. "Battle Hymn of the Republic"), a clear example of the way in which Pronk uses strings to set a tranquil mood, then cleverly amends it by accelerating the tempo and bringing on the brass, reeds and rhythm. True, there are some "Percy Faith moments," as on the ballads "For Birgit" and "At Dawn" and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "If I Loved You," but they are few and far between, as most of Pronk's arrangements favor spice over syrup, even with the ever-present strings dancing around the perimeter. The orchestra's outstanding soloists include alto saxophonist Piet Noordijk (featured on "Lover Man" and "At Dawn"), guitarist Eef Albers ("If I Were a Bell," "I'm Just Wild About Harry"), trombonist Bart van Lier and tenor Leo Janssen (Gershwin's "There's a Boat That's Leavin' Soon for New York"), trumpeter Ruud Breuls and baritone Max Boeree ("Two Up," Part II of "The Final Round"). As the anthology covers quite a lot of time and ground, a complete list of personnel is not provided.

The album has been carefully mastered and mixed, and the 79-minute playing time speaks for itself. A splendid introduction to the kaleidoscopic musical realm of Rob Pronk and the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra.

Visit the Metropole Orkest on the web or email the Metropole Orkest for more information.


Track Listing: John Brown's Body; Send in the Clowns; Cherokee; Frosted Black; S'moo Bloose; For Birgit; As the Town Slid Beneath Us; If I Were a Bell; Lover Man; There's a Boat; If I Loved You; I'm Just Wild About Harry; "The Final Round" (a suite in four movements -- The Stance / Two Up / Blues in the Bunker / And the Eagles Sang; At Dawn; Aande Amsterdamse Grachten (79:04).

Personnel: Rob Pronk, composer, arranger, conductor; personnel unlisted.

Style: Big Band


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