These discs could well be subtitled “Jens Wendelboe: The Early Years,” as both were recorded in the mid–’80s, the second as the (still relatively youthful) Norwegian–based trombonist/composer was completing work on a master’s degree in composition from the Manhattan School of Music. They may have been intended as LPs (the digital revolution was then in its embryonic stage) which would explain the relatively brief playing times (40:02, 48:36). Wendelboe’s compositions (he wrote and arranged everything on both discs) are good–humored and energetic, and he has a penchant for such “modern” contrivances as synthesizer and “electrified” instruments. Lest that be construed as negative, we should add that Wendelboe is an excellent writer whose compositions, whatever their character or tempo, are consistently lyrical and swinging. His Latinesque “Suite for Bjørn,” which won an award in Norway as best composition for the year in which it was written, is plainly deserving of such an honor (in spite of guitarist Alnaes’ irksome chalk–on–a–blackboard scraping). Also worthy of commendation on ’Lone Attic
are the ballad “When You’re Gone” (featuring Wendelboe’s trombone), “Leddy Freddy“ (a Latin showpiece for tenor saxophonist Riisnaes), the saucy “Timbuktu” (on which Alnaes sounds far more agreeable) and the closing “Duo” between pianist Iberg and alto saxophonist Bergli. Some better–known players (alto Kenny Garrett, baritone Roger Rosenberg, pianist Richard Sussman, drummer Steve Johns) are among the sidemen on Letter from New York,
another exuberant session that opens with the fast–paced samba “222 E. 75 St.” (featuring altos Garrett and Ed Jackson) whose tangy flavor personifies the Big Apple. “Flumpy,” a sensuous ballad with solos by Sussman, Wendelboe and flugel Rogers, is followed by the tone poem “From Here to ’Jazz–Alive’ and Back Again” and a flat–out burner, “Krønsch,” with Rosenberg’s baritone and Mike Hall’s bass front and center. “J, We Have No Bananas!,” which derives its inspiration from a ’20s novelty tune, is no parody but a lovely bossa with solos by Wendelboe (on electric trombone) and flutist Lisa Lacross. “Banquers” is a spirited workout for the full ensemble, “Lunatuna II” a dark–hued ballad feature for tenor saxophonist Anders Paulsson. The dynamic brass passages on “Mordere” pave the way for flashing solos by Rogers and guitarist Bill Bickford before a brief quote from the “1812 Overture” leads to the marvelous finale, the 11–minute “Suite Animal,” which blends elements of classical romanticism with mainstream Jazz in a dazzling tour de force for ensemble and soloists (Wendelboe, Sussman on DX–7, pianist Boko Suzuki). While he’s almost unknown here in the States, Wendelboe shows clearly on these exemplary recordings that even by the mid–’80s he had earned a place near the head of the class among contemporary big–band composers and arrangers.
Track listing: ’Lone Attic — 76–77; Leddy Freddy; Günther Balade; Timbuktu; Cactus; When You’re Gone; Secret Name; Suite to Bjørn; Duo (40:02). Letter from New York — 222 E. 75 St.; Flumpy; From Here to “Jazz–Alive” and Back Again; Krønsch; J, We Have No Bananas!; Banquers; Lunatuna II; Mordere & Røvere i Kardemommeby; Suite Animal (48:36).