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Big Band Caravan

Lee Konitz, Maynard Ferguson, New England Jazz Ensemble

By Published: November 16, 2007
Lee Konitz / Ohad Talmor Big Band

Saxophonist Lee Konitz turned eighty years young on October 13, and what better way to flip the bird to Father Time than by producing a year-long series of dynamic new recordings with his nonet, string project and the Ohad Talmor Big Band. If nothing else, this persuasive anthology proves that Konitz has made few concessions to growing old; in other words, he's playing about as well as ever, at a level that has earned him an honored place in the pantheon of celebrated alto saxophonists over the past half-century or more.

Konitz, whose dry, classical sound sets him immediately apart from others, has always been a master of understatement, and Talmor, who wrote all the arrangements, keeps that in mind. His charts are a natural extension of the Konitz persona, even sounding (intentionally) out of tune from time to time. They aren't, of course, nor is Konitz, even though his penchant for contrived dissonance is reminiscent of such trendsetters as pianists Thelonious Monk and Lennie Tristano or saxophonist Warne Marsh (and paved the way for other pioneers including saxophonist Ornette Coleman, who is applauded in a three-part medley). After opening with one of Konitz's earliest compositions, "Sound Lee, the engaging session continues with "June '05 and the aptly named "New Ballad, which sounds like no ballad I've heard recently but is nonetheless charming. The medley and five-movement "Rhythm Sweet precede the pensive finale, "Relative Major.

Talmor's band is actually Portugal's Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos, but that's beside the point. What is paramount is Konitz's unflagging resourcefulness, not to mention his remarkable endurance (he's in the forefront most of the way on an album whose playing time is more than an hour). His singular voice and superior artistry raise Portology above the commonplace and make it well worth hearing.

Maynard Ferguson
The Lost Tapes
Sleepy Night Records

After leaving the U.S. in 1967 to spend a year in India, Maynard Ferguson moved to England, where he befriended fellow trumpeter Ernie Garside, who was to become his manager and help kick-start his then-unsteady career as a big-band leader. Besides keeping the ensemble together and arranging tours and studio recordings, Garside taped many of the band's live performances, and these tapes, apparently the first in a series, have been stashed with many others in a trunk in Garside's home since the early 1970s.

Even though the sound quality is uneven, it's never less than adequate, and the tapes embody a treasure trove of historic scope for Ferguson's many fans, as none of them has ever been transferred to disc (or vinyl) before now. The sidemen are predominantly British, and there are some prominent names in the lineup including trumpeters John Donnelly and Alan Downey; saxophonists Peter King, Brian Smith, Danny Moss, Andy Macintosh and Alan Skidmore; trombonists Adrian Drover and Chris Pyne, pianist Pete Jackson and drummer Randy Jones. The exceptions are tracks 8-9 ("Fruit of the Loon, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me ), on which some of the Brits are replaced by Americans including trumpeters Stan Mark and Bob Summers, pianist Allan Zavod, bassist Rick Petrone and drummer Danny D'Imperio.

This was a time when Ferguson was moving from straight-ahead to more contemporary themes, as represented by "L-Dopa, "Watermelon Man, "Eleanor Rigby, "Loon and "Don't Let the Sun Go Down. "L-Dopa, which clocks in at more than fifteen minutes, is one of two extended works; the other is "The Italian Suite, which runs for more than seventeen minutes. Maynard is in superb form, and there are fiery statements by several others, most notably King, Johnson, baritone Bob Watson, tenors Skidmore and Gary Cox. As noted, a bounteous harvest for fans of the incomparable Maynard Ferguson.

New England Jazz Ensemble
Live! At The Pittsfield City Jazz Festival
Sea Breeze Jazz

Live! is the fourth album by the sixteen-year-old New England Jazz Ensemble, the first recorded outside a studio. They really should do this more often.

The NEJE wins hearts and minds immediately with Jeff Holmes' exuberant "Esprit (based on "How About You ), the first of a dozen luminous charts by members of the band, all of whom are teaching professionals in Massachusetts or neighboring states. Trumpeter Holmes also wrote the groovy "Silver Streak Shuffle and "Of One's Own, pianist / music director Walt Gwardyak "Neves, "Tron and "Some Minor Stuff, saxophonist John Mastroianni the earnest "Nasty Masty and playful "Nossa Bova. Reinforcing them are sparkling arrangements of the standard "You Don't Know What Love Is (Gwardyak), Joe Lovano's "His Dreams and a medley of "Pure Imagination and "Never Never Land (Mastroianni). Among the soloists, trombonist Tim Atherton is a standout on "What Love Is, while Holmes, Gwardyak, Mastroianni, trumpeters Phil Person and Steve Fitzko, alto Bob DePalma, tenors George Sovak and Larry Dvorin, trombonist Peter McEachern, bassist Steve Bulmer and drummer Jon Mele respond with alacrity whenever their names are called.

Even though recorded more than two years ago, the music presented by the NEJE is fresh and timeless, as any admirable music should be. As such, it remains warmly recommended.

University of Northern Colorado Jazz Lab Band 1
Here In The Now
UNC Jazz

Since last we heard from the University of Northern Colorado's Jazz Lab Band 1, long-time Jazz Studies director Gene Aitken retired, his duties as maestro assumed by Dana Landry. After a suitable period of realignment, Lab Band 1 has returned full-throttle to the recording studio, its base for seventeen earlier albums, with Here in the Now, an impressive summary of the ensemble's prowess in 2005-06.

Rather than easing his charges back into harness with a series of by-the-numbers standards, Landry tests them with elaborate themes by Jeff Hamilton ("Max ), Vince Mendoza ("Bossa Antigua ), Bob Brookmeyer ("Seesaw ), Maria Schneider ("Tork's Café ), John Clayton ("Shout Me Out ), Jim McNeely ("Mel ) and Bob Mintzer's powerful arrangement of Herbie Hancock's blustery "Eye of the Hurricane. Lab Band 1 passes each test with flying colors, thanks to snug section work and admirable solos by alto saxophonists Dustin Drews and Nick Frazee, tenor Shawn Constantino, trumpeter Kevin Whalen, trombonist Jaime Parker, guitarist Adam Quane, pianist Ben Haugland, bassist Adam Trachsel and drummer Cody Loucks. Once again, the UNC ensemble validates its credentials (a carload of awards including more than ninety from DownBeat magazine alone), producing an appetizing entrée that simmers pleasantly from start to finish.

The Jason Lindner Big Band
Live At The Jazz Gallery

In November 2005, pianist Jason Lindner's big band marked its tenth anniversary as a Monday night fixture at Small's nightclub in Greenwich Village, NY, by recording this two-disc overview of his forward-leaning compositions and arrangements. Before opening the package, be sure you've put on your thinking cap; you're going to need it. Lindner's charts, which marry components ranging from African and Latin American harmonies and rhythms to swing, bop, hip hop, rap, gospel, electronics, avant-garde, world music, free jazz and even poetry, aren't written for the casual listener.

"My concept of music, Lindner says, "is about bringing joy and energy to listeners, getting them involved in the musical journey we are embarking on, and giving them something perhaps unpredictable, or exciting, or sometimes just beautiful and soulful. While it is up to each listener to gauge his success or failure, there's no doubt that Lindner is a splendid writer who brings out the best in his twelve-piece ensemble. He's also a fine player, as he shows throughout, whether comping or soloing. Lindner's themes are by turn energetic, exciting and capricious. There are moments of rare beauty and wonder, most notably on "Inbal, "Life Light" or "The 5 Elements," and as seven of the nine selections run for more than ten minutes, there's ample room for the various (unnamed) soloists to express their point of view. One question does arise: if it's a live recording (and it is), why fade the opening track, which surely must have had a conventional ending followed by applause.

I do get a kick out of liner notes that begin by saying, "The history of the Jason Linder Big Band is a remarkable tale of imagination, innovation and perseverance, then proceed to say almost nothing about why that is so. Be that as it may, Lindner's band has had a permanent home for more than a decade, and that in itself is remarkable. Although Lindner's music isn't aimed toward proponents of straight-ahead jazz, it's always interesting and well worth checking out.

Per Tjernberg
Inside Information
Phono Suecia

When one's musical influences range from Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis to John Coltrane, Gil Evans, Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman, Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, Pharoah Sanders and the Grateful Dead, as percussionist Per Tjernberg's do, it's fairly certain that the music he composes will be as bold and ambitious as it is pointless to pigeonhole. Such is the case on Inside Information, on which Tjernberg, on his eleventh recording, employs groups of various sizes and instrumentation to underscore his provocative and generally pleasing concepts.

This is contemporary jazz with a Swedish veneer, for the most part cool and understated, with sundry layers of consonance and development. Tjernberg carries out his musical designs by using everything from a quartet with dual-flute front line ("Troutfishing in America ) to a twenty-one piece orchestra with three drummers and two pianists ("Inside Information ). There are solos, but they emerge so naturally from the score that one scarcely notices they are there, with the possible exception of "Gröndal, a sunny theme for nonet that closes the album on an upbeat, swinging note, and on which pianist Bobo Stenson and saxophonists Bernt Rosengren, Tommy Koverhult and David Wilczewski are the soloists.

The musicians are first-class, as are Tjernberg's compositions and arrangements. Not suitable for everyone's palate, perhaps, but nonetheless tasty for those who are able to digest more than garden variety cuisine.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Sound Lee; June '05; A New Ballad; Medley: Ornetty, September 11th, Ornetty, Part 2; Rhythm Sweet: 'Dante, To Be Or Not To, Fragmente, Tempo di Lee, Moderato; Relative Major.

Personnel: Lee Konitz: alto saxophone; Ohad Talmor: conductor, arranger, music director; Erick Poirier, Rogério Ribeiro, Susana Silva, José Silva: trumpet, flugelhorn; José Luis Rego, João Guimarães, João Pedro Brandão, Mário Santos, Zé Pedro Coelho, Rui Teixeira: reeds; Michaël Joussein, Alvaro Pinto, Daniel Dias, Gonçalo Dias: trombone; André Fernandes: guitar; Carlos Azevedo, Pedro Guedes: piano; Demian Cabaud: bass; Mário Barreiros: drums.

The Lost Tapes

Tracks: L-Dopa; Fox Hunt; Tenderly; Watermelon Man; Somewhere; The Italian Suite; Eleanor Rigby; The Fruit of the Loon; Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me; Blue Birdland.

Personnel: Maynard Ferguson: trumpet, flugelhorn, valve trombone, tenor horn; Martin Drover (1, 2, 5, 7), John Donnelly (1, 2, 5, 7), Ernie Garside (1-7, 10), John Huckridge (1, 2, 5, 7), Barry Whitworth (3 ,4, 6, 10), Alan Downey (3, 4, 6, 10), Stan Mark (8, 9), Don Hahn (8, 9), Bob Summers (8, 9), Lynn Nicholson (8, 9): trumpet; Peter King (1-4, 6, 7, 10), Stan Robinson (1), Brian Smith (1-5, 7-10), Bob Watson (1-7, 10), Danny Moss (2, 5), John Holbrook (2), Roger Fleetwood (3), Gary Cox (4, 6, 10), Jeff Daly (5, 7), Alan Skidmore (6), Andy Macintosh (8, 9), Bruce Johnson (8, 9): reeds; Billy Graham (1, 2, 5, 7), Reg Brooks (1), Adrian Drover (1, 2, 5, 7), Chris Pyne (2, 5), Albert Wood (2), Wally Aldred (3, 4, 6, 10), Harry Burges (3, 4, 6, 10), Norman Fripp (7), Randy Purcell (8, 9), Jerry Johnson (8, 9): trombone; Pete Jackson (1-7, 10): acoustic, electric piano; Allan Zavod (8, 9): piano; George Kish (2): guitar; Steve Gray (7): organ; Dave Lynanne (1-7, 10): bass, bass guitar; Rick Petrone (8, 9): bass; Randy Jones (1, 2, 5, 7), Bob Gillespie (3, 4, 6, 10), Danny D'Imperio (8, 9): drums.

Live! At the Pittsfield City Jazz Festival

Tracks: Introduction; Esprit; His Dreams; Neves; You Don't Know What Love Is; Nasty Masty; Of One's Own; Tron; Nossa Bova; Some Minor Stuff; Pure Imagination / Never Never Land; Silver Streak Shuffle.

Personnel: Walt Gwardyak: director, piano; Jeff Holmes, Steve Fitzko, Phil Person, Hank Zorn: trumpet; John Mastroianni: alto, soprano sax, clarinet, flute, piccolo; Bob DePalma: alto sax, clarinet, flute; George Sovak, Larry Dvorin: tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Lisa LaDone: baritone sax, bass clarinet, clarinet; Tim Atherton, Peter McEachern, Dave Sporny: trombone; Dave Wampler: bass trombone; Steve Bulmer: bass; Jon Mele: drums.

Here In The Now

Tracks: Max; Bossa Antigua; Seesaw; Tork's Café; Eye of the Hurricane; Shout Me Out; Mel.

Personnel: Dana Landry: director; Toshi Chun, Mario Pesacreta, Jason Gunderson, Kevin Whalen, Robby Beasley, Doug Doerfert, Chris Winans (2), Tyler Gilmore (2): trumpet; Dustin Drews, Nick Frazee, Jason Nelson, Shawn Constantino, Garth Gourley, Josh Winans, Matthew Roehrich, Justin May (2), Ed Orgill (2), Pete Jeffryes (2), Byron Urbanec (2): reeds; Jamie Parker, Shannon Salcido, Rob Borger, Gary Mayne, Doug Scarborough, Meghan Hall (2), Tom Ball (2): trombone; Ben Haugland, Jed Jensen (2): piano; Adam Quane, Scott Kruser: guitar; Adam Trachsel: bass; Cody Loucks: drums.

Live At The Jazz Gallery

Tracks: Disc 1 — Intro: Song for Jason; Suheir; Rumors; Inbal; Song for Amos (59:22). Disc 2 — Freak of Nature; Life Light; The 5 Elements and the Natural Trinity; Poem for You Today.

Personnel: Jason Lindner: leader, composer, arranger, piano, electric piano; Duane Eubanks, Avishai Cohen: trumpet; Miguel Zenon: alto sax; Jay Collins: tenor, soprano sax, flute, vocal (9); Anat Cohen: tenor sax, clarinet; Chris Karlic: baritone sax; bass clarinet; Joe Fiedler, Dana Leong (2-4, 8), Rafi Malkiel (1, 5-7, 9): trombone; Omer Avital: bass; Eric McPherson: drums; Yosvany Terry Cabrera (8): chekere.

Inside Information

Tracks: Inside Information; Troutfishing in America; ï-ringsfiske I Amerika; Joni; Deya View / Déjà Vu; Gröndal.

Personnel: Per Tjernberg: composer, arranger, leader, percussion; Ulf Adåker: trumpet; Nils Janson: flugelhorn; Jonas Eklund: French horn; Klas Jervfors: trombone; Sven Larsson: bass trombone; Ulf Bjurenhed: oboe; Magnus Lindgren: flute, bass flute, piccolo; David Wilczewski: flute, alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax; Christer Bothèn: bass clarinet; Bernt Rosengren, Tommy Koverhult: tenor sax; Bobo Stenson: acoustic, electric piano; Mats ï-berg: electric piano, clavinet, solina strings, marimba, celeste, chromatic harmonica; Mattias Ståhl: vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel; Christian Spering: string bass; Desmond Foster: electric bass; Åke Eriksson, Bengt Berger, Morgan Ågren: drums.

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