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Darmstadter Big Band / Alon Yavnai–NDR Big Band / Red Bank Jazz Orchestra

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Dartstadter Big Band

Kentomania

Self Published

2010

Of all the recorded tributes to the legendary Stan Kenton
Stan Kenton
Stan Kenton
1911 - 1979
piano
released during the centennial of his birth (2011), the Darmstadter Big Band's Kentomania (it's spelled that way on the jacket cover and disc) is unequaled for one reason alone: it has former Kenton standout Herb Geller
Herb Geller
Herb Geller
1928 - 2013
saxophone
as a soloist, the others do not. Geller, now in his eighty-third year, is as sly as a fox and spry as a gazelle on Bill Holman
Bill Holman
Bill Holman
b.1927
sax, tenor
's emphatic arrangements of "Indiana" and "I Remember You" and Bill Mathieu's beguiling take on John Lewis
John Lewis
John Lewis
b.1920
piano
' "Django." While that alone should be worth the price of admission, there are other reasons to consider Kentomania, not the least of which is that conductor Peter Linhart has assembled a world-class ensemble that readily absorbs the Kenton library and brings it vividly to life.

The album opens on a high note with Kenton's timeless theme, "Artistry in Rhythm," which segues immediately into Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
1927 - 1996
sax, baritone
's even-tempered dance-floor arrangement of the Rodgers and Hart standard "Where or When." "Indiana" is followed by Hank Levy
Hank Levy
1927 - 2001
sax, tenor
's seductive "Decoupage," Holman's fast-paced "Works" and his fiery arrangement of Enresto Lecuona's "Malaguena," "Django" by Bob Curnow's rock-inflected arrangement of "Live and Let Die" and Johnny Richards' temperate reading of Victor Young / Ned Washington's "Stella by Starlight." After Geller shines on "I Remember You," the band wraps things up neatly with Mark Taylor
Mark Taylor
Mark Taylor
b.1961
composer/conductor
's prancing "Granada Smoothie" and a brace of splendid charts by Dave Barduhn: Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" and the Hanna / Barbera cartoon classic, "Meet the Flintstones." Tenor saxophonist Linhart is the featured soloist on "Stella by Starlight" and "Flintstones," alto Dieter Bock on "Decoupage" and "Malaguena," guitarist Axel Muller-Schroth on "Live and Let Die," trumpeter Ralf Noske on "Granada Smoothie," pianist Steffen Stutz on "Send in the Clowns." None of them disappoints, nor does the ensemble as a whole.

If nothing else, Kentomania explicitly affirms that European jazz ensembles are advancing ever closer to their American counterparts when it comes to assimilating and unraveling music that once was looked upon as inherent in our nature and thus beyond the reach of others. It helps, of course, to have Herb Geller in the lineup, but even without his presence this would remain an exemplary synopsis of the transcendent music of Stan Kenton.

Alon Yavnai / NDR Big Band

Shir Ahava

Alon Yavnai Music

2012

Alon Yavnai, an Israeli who began playing the piano at age four, says little about himself in the sleeve notes to Shir Ahava, his splendid large-scale recording debut with Germany's outstanding NDR Big Band. A quick glance online, however, reveals that he studied at Boston's Berklee School of Music, earned first-place honors in the Great American Jazz Piano Competition, has played and recorded with the great Cuban multi-instrumentalist Paquito D'Rivera
Paquito D'Rivera
Paquito D'Rivera
b.1948
saxophone
(with whom he won a Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album), and has performed with such well-known musicians as Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
1938 - 2008
trumpet
, Regina Carter
Regina Carter
Regina Carter
b.1966
violin
, Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
, Nancy Wilson
Nancy Wilson
Nancy Wilson
b.1937
vocalist
, Louis Hayes
Louis Hayes
Louis Hayes
b.1937
drums
, Ravi Coltrane
Ravi Coltrane
Ravi Coltrane
b.1965
sax, tenor
, Claudio Roditi
Claudio Roditi
Claudio Roditi
b.1946
trumpet
, Rufus Reid
Rufus Reid
Rufus Reid
b.1944
bass, acoustic
and George Garzone
George Garzone
George Garzone
b.1950
sax, tenor
, among others.

Yavnai first became acquainted with the NDR Big Band while touring as a member of D'Rivera's rhythm section, wrote a couple of charts for the band, then approached producer Axel Durr to suggest that they collaborate on a full-blown big-band enterprise. Durr was receptive, so Yavnai returned to New York and started writing. The result is Shir Ahava ("Love Poem"), which enwraps seven of Yavnai's lively and colorful compositions / arrangements. Besides writing everything, Yavnai is listed as pianist but the keyboard he's playing on "Travel Notes" sounds early on more like a Persian santour than a conventional piano. Soprano Lutz Buchner and trumpeter Ingolf Burkhardt also solo on "Travel Notes," one of three numbers that run for more than ten minutes (the others are "Au Castagney" and "Ilha b'nit"). The NDR receives a vigorous workout on every track and welcomes the challenge of helping Yavnai's music come alive.

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