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Extended Analysis

European Youth Jazz Orchestra: Swinging Europe 2006

By Published: February 1, 2007

What the world needs now is more swinging and less skirmishing; long live Swinging Europe and the EYJO!

European Youth Jazz Orchestra
Swinging Europe 2006
Music Mecca

What a great (one is almost tempted to say "civilized") idea: an orchestra composed of young musicians from sixteen European countries (and one from America), touring the Continent for three weeks and presenting a series of concerts under the aegis of the Danish-based organization Swinging Europe and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Each year, new composers and conductors are singled out as mentors, and this tenth edition of the EYJO is directed by Great Britain's Barry Forgie, best known for his work as leader of the renowned BBC Big Band.

The guest conductor calls most of the shots, choosing the repertoire and even supervising the size and makeup of the orchestra. The upper age limit for the musicians is thirty, but they needn't be amateurs. German lead trumpeter Axel Schlosser, for example, has recorded with a number of big bands and other groups in his homeland, as has Swedish bassist Martin Sjöstedt, and I would assume that others have done the same.

In any event, there's no doubt that every one of these men and women is a first-class musician, as demonstrated by their ability to play so well together after limited rehearsals and concerts. Representing the U.S., by the way, is trombonist Robynn Amy, one of four women in the orchestra (the others are Canadian pianist Laila Biali, Austrian alto saxophonist Viola Falb, and French baritone Marielle Chatain).

The nine selections on Swinging Europe were taped during concerts last May in Glasgow, Scotland, at the end of a strenuous tour that encompassed fifteen performances in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Wales and the United Kingdom. Unlike some of his predecessors, who were of a more contemporary (read: avant-garde) bent, Forgie appreciates the more traditional aspects of big-band Jazz; in other words, this edition of the EYJO really does swing (I'd been let down by some earlier endeavors, but not this one or the '05 orchestra led by Canada's Vic Vogel).

For these performances, Forgie has written half a dozen tunes and arranged Alan Ganley's "Home and Dry and John Horler's "Waltz. Schlosser composed and arranged the ballad "Touching the Moon, on which his flugelhorn is showcased. Among Forgie's essays is "Wry Smiles, a clever and fast-paced revision (complete with bagpiper) of the traditional Scottish melody "Comin' Through the Rye. Ganley's "Dry —a straight-ahead opener with acrobatic ensemble passages and torrid solos by Sjöstedt, Biali, alto Niels Lyhne Løkkegaard and guitarist Elvis Penava—is followed by Forgie's even-tempered blues "Thaddeus Rex, a salute to trumpeter Thad Jones, who spent many years as an expatriate in Denmark, and mellow ensemble piece "Byers, dedicated to the superb American trombonist-arranger Billy Byers.

Biali's expressive piano is out front on the irresistible "Waltz, which precedes "Smiles and "Moon, the former including a take-no-prisoners tenor "war between Switzerland's Max Pizio and Jakub Dolezal from the Czech Republic (would that all countries could settle their differences as amicably). There's a happy Latin feel to Forgie's "Slaying the Hippopotamus, which he says was written in 5/8 time with 2, 3, 4 and 7 in a bar (whatever that means). What matters is the result, which in this instance is enchanting (as are the solos by unnamed trombone and muted trumpet).

As its name suggests, the deeply atmospheric "Alto Fresco is a feature for alto sax, in this case Falb, who plays brilliantly. The orchestra closes with a more customary theme, Forgie's lengthy "Sing a Samba for Krupa" (showcasing the orchestra's outstanding Finnish drummer Jaska Lukkarinen), which Forgie describes as "a modern interpretation of the Gene Krupa period with the Benny Goodman Band — and which even an impartial observer might further describe as a quintessential crowd-pleasing finale.

As noted, Swinging Europe is a marvelous concept, one that has not only met with success but is growing, to the extent that there is now a Trainee Band to give young students the experience that will help them make a decision about their musical future. As for the EYJO, the starting lineup for '07 has already been named, as has the guest conductor, Danish composer/saxophonist Lars Møller, while planning for 2008 has begun with Germany designated as the host country.

What the world needs now is more swinging and less skirmishing; long live Swinging Europe and the EYJO!

Tracks: Home and Dry; Thaddeux Rex; Byers; Waltz; Wry Smiles; Touching the Moon; Slaying the Hippopotamus; Alto Fresco; Sing a Samba for Krupa (78:10).

Personnel: Barry Forgie: composer, arranger, conductor; Axel Schlosser, Michal Bylica, Stian Omenås, Konstadin "Kolja Radendovic: trumpet; Niels Lyhne Løkkegaard: alto, soprano sax, clarinet; Viola Falb: alto sax; Max Pizio, Jakub Dolezal: tenor sax; Marielle Chatain: baritone sax; Robynn Amy, Pepijn Zoon, Helgi Hrafn Jonsson: trombone; Rok Stirn: bass trombone; Laila Biali: piano; Elvis Penava: guitar; Martin Sjösdedt: bass; Jaska Lukkarinen: drums.

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