The Florian Ross Brass Project isn’t exactly a big band; on the other hand, it’s not a small group either. More like a big band in search of a reed section. The FRBP is comprised of eleven musicians, eight brass and three rhythm, under the baton of German conductor Manfred Knaak. Seven are from from Germany, three from the U.S. and one from Holland. What they play are thirteen compositions / arrangements by pianist Ross that include a chorale, fanfare, rondo, a piece inspired by films, another by London, a twelve–tone work inscribed for American saxophonist Dave Liebman, four vamps and an “encore” whose silhouette emerged while Ross was taking a bath. This isn’t music on which one can easily pin a label. The basic elements of Jazz are there — syncopation, improvisation — but Ross goes well beyond that, incorporating elements from other genres and carving a niche that isn’t always “Jazzy” but is consistently musical. That is to say, Ross never abandons the necessary building blocks of music in favor of “free–form” development. “At the Movies,” a tranquil interlude underscored by Ross’s sentient piano, opens with someone named Helen being asked to sing a song. Although she reluctantly agrees to do so, she’s not heard from again. That’s about as quirky as the session becomes. Two of the four vamps are balladic, as is “Old City, New City,” written to mark Ross’s stay in London from 1995–96. The “Opening Chorale” (played by the brass alone with no solos) owes much to such British composers as Elgar, Walton and others, while the three–note voicings in the “Fanfare,” says Ross, were prompted by other films, namely the Robin Hood epics he watched as a child. The most straight–ahead tune on offer is the encore, “Aldersong” (the one that arose from the bathtub), on which Ross (again the soloist) and the ensemble show that they can swing when asked to do so. Actually, “Fanfare” swings quite nicely too, with a solo to match by lead trombone Jürgen Neudert and forceful drumming by John Hollenbeck, one of the three Americans in the lineup (the others are bass trombonist Ed Partyka and French horn player Christine Chapman). While this may not be every Jazz enthusiast's cup of tea, Ross is a talented writer, his music is for the most part charming and accessible, and the Brass Project never misses a beat. If you're looking for a handsome garment that hasn't been outworn, try this one on for size.
Contact:WDR, website www.hnh.com, or Naxos Jazz of America, 416 Mary Lindsay Polk Drive, Suite 509, Franklin, TN 37067.
Personnel: Manfred Knaak, conductor; Florian Ross, piano; Ingolf Burkhardt, Claus St