Even though the Sandvika Storband (big band) is tucked away in an enclave near Norway's capital, Oslo, far removed from the antennae of most listeners outside northern Europe, you'd have to travel the world over to find a more proficient ensemble. As I wrote when reviewing Sandvika's album Greenhouse - Live at Smuget
six years ago, "add a couple of French horns and you've got the Boss Brass, not an inapt comparison by any measure, and as true today as it was then. The Storband has been playing together for 35 years, and that shows in the timing and dynamics, which are impeccable. On this occasion, the band welcomes one of its distinguished alumni, guitarist Frode Kjekstad, whose marvelous compositions, arrangements and solos form the nucleus of an exhilarating concert at the Bærum Kulturhus.
While Kjekstad's lithe phrases are impressive, his writing is what carries the day. Kjekstad composed and arranged every number, and he definitely knows how to make a big band sound irresistible. The trumpet chorale on "After Hours, Part 1 of his three-movement "Nightcup Suite, is especially persuasive, but that's only a taste of what he has to offer. The last movement, "Nightcup Shuffle, is as splendid a piece of big band writing as you're likely to hear on either side of the Atlanticor even the Pacific. Kjekstad's walking solo, which precedes candid statements by alto Kåre Løchsen and drummer Espen Ellefsen, brings to mind the great Wes Montgomery.
Kjekstad's other themes are no less bracing, from the colorful "Midnight State of Mind, "Brooklyn Bound, and "Rafa Blues to the strapping "Dorian's Craze and the tranquil ballads "Autumn in Rome and "Moon Song (which switches gears in midstream to become a bright and charming samba). There's even an aggressive blazer for two guitars, Kjekstad and the Storband's incumbent, Marius Graff. Kjekstad is showcased again on "Brooklyn and "After Hours, trumpeters Axel Vetlesen and Frank Brodahl on "Rome and "Moon Song, respectively. Kjekstad solos with tenor Hallvard Nyrud on "Midnight, trumpeter Marius Haltli on "Dorian, bassist Lars Martin Vik and trombonist Tor Pundsnes on "Rafa. Vetlesen, Haltli and trombonist Audun Øksendal share the honors on Part 2 of the Suite, "Hours After.
The recorded sound is first-rate for a concert date, and the audience is inaudible except for applause at the end of each number. The 53-minute playing time is respectable if not overly generous. More to the point, the Sandvika Storband is simply remarkable, as is its multitalented prodigal son, Frode Kjekstad.
Personnel: Frank Brodahl: music director, trumpet; Frode Kjekstad: composer, arranger, guitar soloist;
Bjørn Asper, Marius Haltli, Per Gjermund Storrø, Axel Vetlesen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Kåre
Løchsen: alto, soprano saxophone, flute; Sissel Meinseth: alto saxophone, flute; Bjørn
Barlo: tenor and alto saxophone, flute; Hallvard Nyrud: tenor saxophone, flute; Jon
Bakkelund: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Tor Pundsnes, Audun Øksendal, Bjørn
Tveøy: trombone; Øistein Vethe: bass trombone; Marius Graff: guitar; Håvard Graff: piano;
Lars Martin Vik: bass; Espen Ellefsen: drums.