Unfamiliar as I was with Jan Kaspersen, I hardly knew what to expect from a twelve-piece big band led by a Danish pianist who has studied jazz theory with George Russell, analyzed and recorded the music of classical composer Erik Satie, drafted compositions for Pierre Dorgé’s cutting-edge New Jungle Orchestra and led his own group under the name “Space and Rhythm Jazz.” Bracing for the worst, the last thing I thought I’d hear as the opening selection, “Down, Up and Around,” unfolded was a brashly rocking down-home boogie, the first of eight superlative compositions / arrangements by Kaspersen that would quickly turn my unwarranted skepticism into unbridled admiration.
The moral, I suppose, is that one shouldn’t appraise a book by its cover or a Jazz musician by his / her resumé. In this case, at least, that would have been an egregious error. Kaspersen delivers the goods on every number, as do his (mostly) Danish colleagues. Kaspersen not only writes swinging, straight-ahead jazz, he coaxes an exceedingly large and colorful mélange of sound from only one trumpet (the wonderful Anders Bergcrantz), two trombones, four saxophones and rhythm. Everyone in the band is a first-class soloist, and everyone except bassist Peter Danstrup is given at least one chance to affirm his prowess in that area (or hers, in the case of trombonist Lis Wessberg who sparkles alongside tenor Fredrik Lundin and guitarist Aske Jacoby on the buoyant shuffle “Ama’r,” and in company with Bergcrantz, Jacoby and alto Bob Rockwell on the spellbinding bossa-flavored finale, “In the Kitchen”). “Down, Up and Around” sounds like an upscale version of music endorsed by such neo-swing bands as Brian Setzer, the Squirrel Nut Zippers or their counterparts. Bergcrantz solos, as do Jacoby and “the three tenors,” Rockwell, Lundin and Henrik Sveidahl, the last of whom is heard to good advantage elsewhere (“Cheker’s Tune,” “Silent Days in Opalblue”) on baritone. Bergcrantz uses a Harmon mute to enhance the dreamy atmosphere as Kaspersen slows the tempo on “Memo to the Moon,” paving the way for shapely solos by soprano saxophonist Simon Spang-Hanssen and the leader.
“Beet Root Serenade” and “Cheker’s Tune” are flat-out swingers, the former embodying trenchant commentary from Bergcrantz, Spang-Hanssen (alto) and Lundin along with impressive hammering by percussionist Klavs Nordsø, the latter hair-raising statements by Sveidahl, Rockwell (soprano), Spang-Hanssen (alto), trombonist Erling Kroner and a closing “chase” sequence featuring Jacoby and drummer Ole Rømer. Bergcrantz (again muted), Sveidahl and Kaspersen are awesome on the richly textured “Silent Days in Opalblue,” as are Kroner, Spang-Hanssen (soprano) and Kaspersen on the zestful (and catchy) “Music Tribe Call.” In less than an hour, Kaspersen’s Memo to the Moon rose in this reviewer’s opinion from unpredictable dark horse to early candidate for Big Band Record of the Year. Highly recommended.
Contact: Olufsen Records, Uraniajev 12, 1878 Frederiksberg C, Denmark. Fax +45 33 21 45 02.
Personnel: Jan Kaspersen, leader, piano; Anders Bergcrantz, trumpet; Lis Wessberg,
Erling Kroner, trombone; Simon Spang-Hanssen, alto, soprano sax; Bob
Rockwell, tenor, soprano sax; Fredrik Lundin, tenor sax; Henrik Sveidahl,
tenor, baritone sax; Aske Jacoby, electric guitar; Peter Danstrup, bass; Ole