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Big Band Caravan

Eric Miyashiro / CNY Jazz Orchestra / No Name Horses / Stockholm Jazz Orchestra / Howard University Jazz Ensemble

By Published: July 7, 2008
> No Name Horses
No Name Horses II
Universal Music

To be honest, I haven't a clue as to how this splendid Japanese big band came to be designated No Name Horses. What I can say with assurance is that "no name" doesn't mean "no talent." Quite the contrary. The ensemble is loaded with world-class players, starting with the fantastic pianist / organist Makoto Ozone and peerless lead trumpeter Eric Miyashiro. As its title suggests, this is the band's second album, and each one is a paragon of big-band excitement and artistry.

Ozone, the band's de facto leader, wrote five of the album's eleven selections, complementing one apiece by Miyashiro ("Reconnection"), trombonist Eijiro Nakagawa ("Into the Sky"), alto Atsushi Ikeda ("ATFT"), tenor Toshio Miki ("Stepping Stone"), Yoshiro Okazaki ("Miyabi") and the Gershwin standard "Someone to Watch Over Me." Ozone employs the Hammond B3 on only one number, his brawny opener, "No Strings Attached," while inserting tasteful piano solos on "Into the Sky," "Miyabi" and another of his tantalizing essays, "You Always Come Late" (the last following an explosive "false ending"). Ikeda's expressive alto invigorates "Someone to Watch Over Me."

Ikeda solos with Ozone on "Come Late," with trumpeter Sho Okumura on Ozone's "Portrait of Duke" (dedicated to the late Herb Pomeroy), with baritone Yoshihiro Iwamochi and trombonist Yuzo Kataoka on "ATFT." Other admirable phrase-makers include tenors Miki ("Stepping Stone," "Reconnection,") and Masanori Okazaki ("Miyabi"), trumpeter Mitsukuni Kohata ("No Strings"), alto / soprano Kazuhiko Kondo (dazzling on "Into the Sky"), bass trombonist Junko Yamashiro ("OK, Just One Last Chance!") and bassist Kengo Nakamura ("No Strings"). Iwamochi (on bass clarinet) shares the spotlight with trombonists Kataoka and Nakagawa on the aptly named "Cookin' for Hungry Horses," which proves what a superb accompanist Ozone is while showcasing the band's virile trumpet section (muted and open). The NNH rhythm section (Ozone, Nakamura, drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi) is as bright and dependable as a sunrise.

As it turns out, these Horses don't need a name to outrun most other steeds. Ozone and Miyashiro give them a sizable head start, and their teammates escort them safely across the finish line.

> Stockholm Jazz Orchestra
Plays Stockholm Jazz Orchestra

To help erase any lingering doubts that (many) European big bands can stand their ground against the best America (and Canada) have to offer, here's the world-class Stockholm Jazz Orchestra (no doubt about that) performing eight marvelous original compositions written—and in one case arranged—by members of the ensemble.

The SJO enters swinging on trumpeter Peter Asplund's "The Prowlers" (arranged by alto saxophonist Magnus Blom) and shows its astuteness and versatility throughout. Celebrated pianist Jim McNeely, who has spent considerable time guiding the orchestra (and may still be doing so, although that isn't mentioned anywhere), scored trumpeter Magnus Broo's throbbing "Cochise," lead alto Johan Horlen's graceful "Sarimner's Waltz" and tenor Karl-Martin Almqvist's pensive "O.D.," while the well-known American tenor star Bob Mintzer did the same for bassist Martin Sjostedt's easygoing "Mondeo" and trumpeter Gustavo Bergalli's boppish "Dedication." The diaphanous "Just Being" was written by lead trombonist Bertil Strandberg and arranged by brother Goran, a former pianist with the SJO, while the flag-waving finale, "Avenida," was composed and arranged by drummer Jukkis Uotila, an imposing presence in the orchestra's blue-chip rhythm section.

Even though the ensemble is in the forefront much of the way, there's ample space for personal expression, territory that is eagerly claimed by trumpeters Asplund, Bergalli and Karl Olandersson; trombonists Strandberg, Magnus Wiklund and Peter Dahlgren; tenors Almqvist and Robert Nordmark, alto Horlen, bassist Sjostedt, pianist Daniel Tilling and guitarist Ola Bengtsson. Strandberg is featured on "Just Being," tenors Almqvist and Nordmark with Uotila on "Avenida." Asplund is a standout on "Prowlers," as are Tilling and Horlen on "Sarimner's Waltz," Bergalli and Wiklund on "Dedication."

Captivating music wonderfully interpreted by one of the world's most accomplished jazz orchestras.

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