The Bob Mintzer Big Band: Gently (2003)
Bob Mintzer, who is known to favor fiery Latin rhythms and big-band charts with an abundance of punch and power, has a softer side too, one that is laid bare on this understated but no less invigorating new release, his fourteenth (or fifteenth? I've lost count) on the dmp label. 'I think I've . . . reached a point,' Mintzer writes, 'where I can appreciate the subtlety factor in music and in life, where I would just as soon be gently caressed rather than smacked with a large stick.' With that in mind, Mintzer says, he designed his latest album as 'a gentle approach to big-band instrumentation, using clarinets and flutes in place of saxophones; muted brass; the addition of French horns on two numbers, and writing for the band in a range and style [that] projects a soothing, warm sound.'
The climate is especially sultry on Mintzer's ballad feature, Johnny Green's 'Body and Soul,' which he calls 'every tenor's measuring stick' (except for Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras, of course), while the reed section (deftly backed by drummer Peter Erskine's improvised counterpoint) is front and center on the gossamer 'Saxophone Quartet #2' (middle movement), written for Miles Osland's talented undergrads at the University of Kentucky. Less heated tempos, however, don't necessarily denote an absence of warmth; Mintzer's concept, gentle as it is, can still stir one's blood, thanks to his seductive charts, shapely solos by such old hands as trumpeter Scott Wendholt and Michael Phillip Mossman, alto saxophonists Pete Yellin and Charles Pillow, soprano Lawrence Feldman, tenor Bob Malach, baritone Roger Rosenberg, trombonists Larry Farrell and Keith O'Quinn, pianist Phil Markowitz and bassist Jay Anderson, and unremitting support from the ever-reliable Erskine. 'Timeless' unveils a bossa-style Brazilian fa'ade, while 'Who's Walkin' Who' (inspired by Mintzer's labrador retrievers, Davis and Yosemity) is a softly ambling blues and 'Bright Lights,' written in '92 for his small group, the Yellowjackets, a funky shuffle that opens calmly and builds to a less-than-muted climax. "This one was hard to play soft,' Mintzer writes, 'but I think we got it.' They did.
'Gently,' inspired by Gil Evans, is an unassuming 4 / 4 swinger (with more perceptive work by Erskine) that uses woodwinds and cup-muted brass to state its theme, Thad Jones' 'Don't Ever Leave Me' a winsome ballad that Mintzer says he's always wanted to record. Gently is a conspicuous change of pace for the usually upbeat Mintzer, but one that underlines his structural resourcefulness and never fails to please. Easily recommended.
Contact: Digital Music Products, Park Square Station, P.O. Box 15835, Stamford, CT 06901. Web site, www.dmprecords.com
Track Listing: Gently; Timeless; Original People; Body and Soul; Who?s Walkin? Who; Don?t Ever Leave Me; Bright Lights; Saxophone Quartet #2 (57:23).
Personnel: Bob Mintzer, tenor sax, flute, leader; Lawrence Feldman, Charles Pillow, alto sax, flute; Pete Yellin, alto sax; Bob Malach, tenor sax, flute; Roger Rosenberg, baritone sax, clarinet; Bob Millikan, Frank Greene, Michael Phillip Mossman, Scott Wendholt, Jim Seeley, trumpet, flugelhorn; Keith O?Quinn, Michael Davis, Larry Farrell, trombone; David Taylor, bass trombone; John Clark, Fred Griffin, French horn; Phil Markowitz, piano; Jay Anderson, bass; Peter Erskine, drums.