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Big Band Caravan

Resonance Big Band / Sammy Nestico-SWR Big Band / Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra / Alf Clausen Jazz Orchestra

By Published: July 10, 2009
Resonance Big Band
Plays Tribute to Oscar Peterson
Resonance Records
2009

First things first: there will never be another Oscar Peterson

Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
1925 - 2007
piano
. Period. Even so, there are others who come remarkably close to retracing his legendary footsteps. Fellow Canadian Oliver Jones
Oliver Jones
Oliver Jones
b.1934
piano
is one, Romanian-born Resonance Big Band
Resonance Big Band
Resonance Big Band

band/orchestra
another. It is the virtually unknown thirty-something Petrescu who undertakes the awesome task of sitting in for OP on the Resonance Big Band's CD, Plays Tribute to Oscar Peterson. "Oscar Peterson was my favorite pianist since I was young," Petrescu writes. "And I think he is still the best of all time." How does Petrescu fare as OP's surrogate? Listen for yourself and be amazed.

Arnold van Kampen, Peterson's close friend (and liner-note writer for this album), found Petrescu on YouTube a couple of years ago, in clips from a recording produced by George Klabin of Resonance Records. Klabin was so impressed by the young pianist that shortly after Peterson died in December 2007, he got in touch with Petrescu, who was living in Finland, and persuaded him (it wasn't difficult, as OP was one of Petrescu's musical heroes) to record a big-band tribute to Peterson. Klabin hired an orchestra comprised of many of the L.A. area's leading jazz musicians, hired topnotch conductor / arrangers including Klaus Ogerman (who had recorded with Peterson), chose the music and set a recording date.

The tribute consists of eleven numbers (a dozen if one counts the medley of "Hymn to Freedom" / "John Brown's Body"), five by Peterson, the traditional folk song "Greensleeves," and compositions by Rodgers and Hart, Lalo Schifrin

Lalo Schifrin
Lalo Schifrin
b.1932
band/orchestra
, Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini
b.1924
piano
, Oscar Pettiford
Oscar Pettiford
Oscar Pettiford
1922 - 1960
bass
and Leonard Bernstein (a second medley, this one from West Side Story). While Petrescu, as one would expect, handles most of the solos (and does so admirably), there are brief statements by an unnamed alto (Brian Scanlon?) on "I Feel Pretty," by two trombonists (most likely Andy Martin
Andy Martin
Andy Martin
b.1960
and Bob McChesney
Bob McChesney
Bob McChesney

trombone
) on "John Brown's Body," by guitarist Andreas Oberg
Andreas Oberg
Andreas Oberg
b.1978
guitar
on "Greensleeves," and by Oberg and drummer Joe LaBarbera
Joe LaBarbera
Joe LaBarbera
b.1948
drums
on Peterson's "Bossa Beguine." La Barbera, bassist David Arkenstone and the ensemble are quite impressive (as indeed they are throughout) on West Side Story. Petrescu exits in style with a masterful restatement (sans orchestra) of Peterson's finger-busting "Little Jazz Exercise."

Before closing, mention must be made that the CD comes with a bonus DVD, a "behind the scenes" look at the making of Plays Tribute, which in its way is almost as engaging as the album itself. The DVD is narrated by Klabin and one of the arrangers, pianist Bill Cunliffe

Bill Cunliffe
Bill Cunliffe
b.1956
piano
(the others are Ogerman ["Sally's Tomato"] and Kuno Schmid). A bit too much talking and not quite enough music perhaps, but some absorbing insights from Cunliffe make it worth watching, and it's nice to see the band weeding out the blemishes at rehearsal. If there's a weakness in the CD—and it's a minor one—it is that Petrescu's piano is a tad too much in the foreground, to the detriment of the ensemble. But once one adapts to that, the rest is smooth sailing and a marvelous tribute to the incomparable Oscar Peterson. We'll not see his like again.

Sammy Nestico / SWR Big Band
Fun Time
Haenssler Classic
2009

Any time that Sammy Nestico

Sammy Nestico
Sammy Nestico
b.1924
composer/conductor
is teamed with a big band is Fun Time, and swing time as well. That's especially true when the band in question is one of the world's foremost jazz ensembles, Germany's sterling-silver SWR Big Band, comprised of many of that country's blue-ribbon musicians (plus one American expat, trumpeter Don Rader
Don Rader
b.1935
trumpet
, and a second, trombonist Ian Cumming, who's from either Canada or Great Britain).

The ideally named Fun Time encompasses fifteen of Nestico's sunny compositions and / or arrangements, every one of which embodies the sort of snappy and engaging ripostes one would expect from a true master of his craft. Surprisingly, none of these themes sounded familiar, which may mean that Nestico continues at age eighty-five to write typically brilliant big-band charts. Eleven of the compositions (and all of the arrangements) are his; the numbers he didn't write are jazz classics—"Struttin' with Some Barbecue," "Not Really the Blues," "Bye Bye Blues" and "King Porter Stomp." In his perceptive liner notes, Nestico writes that at least three of his originals—"Fun Time," "Rare Moment," "The Four of Us" (originally "You n' Me")—were written some years ago. The others, presumably, are of more recent vintage.

Of course, if writing for a big band, it's always good to have a helpmate as talented as the SWR ensemble whose interpretations of Nestico's notes on paper are consistently unsullied. The sectional give-and-take is impressive, the various soloists clever and charming. And as is always the case with the SWR's recordings, production values are superb, the playing time an exceedingly generous 76:50. Speaking of soloists, Rader (trumpet on "Not Really the Blues" and "King Porter," flugel on "D'Ann" and "Rare Moment") is one of the frontrunners. The fluent pianist Klaus Wagenleiter is featured on the picturesque "Song for Sarah" [Vaughan], the trombone section (with bassist Decebal Badila) on "The Four of Us." Others who embrace the moment include alto Klaus Graf, tenors Andi Maile and Axel Kuhn (flute on "Orchids and Butterflies"), trumpeter Karl Farrent, lead trombonist Marc Godfroid, baritone Pierre Paquette (clarinet on "Barbecue") and guitarist Klaus-Peter Schopfer. There's even a dapper bassoon solo by guest artist Libor Sima on Nestico's amiable "New Day," one of two selections (thanks to technical support) on which two "bands" play simultaneously (the other is "Bye Bye Blues"). Drummer Guido Joris, who has replaced Holger Nell, anchors the band's sure-handed rhythm section.

Even though Nestico abides securely on canonical big-band turf, plowing no new ground, Fun Time is exactly that, an unreservedly upbeat and pleasurable voyage from end to end. The album marks Nestico's third collaboration with the WDR Big Band, and the inescapable verdict is that they make a wonderful team.

Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra
Where or When
Owl Studios
2009

According to Brent Wallarab, when he and Mark Buselli

Mark Buselli
Mark Buselli
b.1958
trumpet
formed the Indianapolis-based Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra in 1994, their idea "was that of an entirely instrumental group." Then along came baritone Everett Greene. "There are many competent vocalists who aspire to sing with a big band," Wallarab writes in the liner notes to Where or When, "but artists like Everett are one in a million." And so it is that Greene is the singer of record on eight of thirteen selections on the B-WJO's newest CD, with guest vocalist Cynthia Layne featured on three others.

Whether Greene is "one in a million" is debatable; what isn't is that he's an excellent singer, his mellow yet resonant voice reminiscent of such other class acts as Johnny Hartman

Johnny Hartman
Johnny Hartman
1923 - 1983
vocalist
, Ernie Andrews
Ernie Andrews
Ernie Andrews
b.1927
vocalist
, Andy Bey
Andy Bey
Andy Bey
b.1939
piano
and Billy Eckstine
Billy Eckstine
Billy Eckstine
1914 - 1993
vocalist
. Greene, whose phrasing and rhythmic awareness are near-flawless, is definitely a pleasure to hear, which can't be said about many big-band vocalists. Layne is another gem. Any quarrel about her inclusion is not with Layne but with the choice of her material ("L-O-V-E," "Avalon," "Teach Me Tonight"). While none is distasteful, neither are they anywhere near the lofty benchmarks set by "My Romance," "Where or When," "I'll Be Around," "This Can't Be Love," "My Foolish Heart" or Greene's other showcases. The impression lingers that he's been given the main course, Layne the leftovers. On the other hand, Layne digests admirably whatever is on the table, leaving no cause for displeasure.

There are two instrumentals—Benny Carter

Benny Carter
Benny Carter
1907 - 2003
sax, alto
's "Wonderland," Vincent Youmans / Billy Rose's "More Than You Know"—the first featuring Buselli's flugelhorn and tenor Rob Dixon, the second Wallarab's trombone. The ensemble lies midway between a small group and big band, using two trumpets, two trombones, bass trombone, three saxophones, French horn and rhythm section. Its makeup (and most of the charts), Wallarab writes, were "influenced somewhat by the ensembles of [sic] Mary Paiche" (a.k.a. Marty Paich
Marty Paich
1925 - 1995
composer/conductor
). Wallarab arranged everything but "Teach Me Tonight" (Buselli) and "My Foolish Heart" (Jason Miller).

As big-band albums with vocalists go, Where or When stands head and shoulders above many others, thanks in large measure to the singular artistry of Greene and Layne. The B-WJO's partnership with Greene has been remarkably successful. Even so, we'd welcome a return to the all-instrumental concept by an exemplary ensemble that clearly deserves its place in the sun.

St. Johns River City Band
Silver Threads
Self Published
2009

Silver Threads denotes growing older only in the sense that it marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Northern Florida's foremost large jazz ensemble, the St. Johns River City Band, which is many seasons removed from being past its prime. Formed in 1984 by Ira Koger, the non-profit SJRCB is comprised of professional and part-time musicians from the Jacksonville area and beyond. In 1985, the band was named Jacksonville's Official Band, and in 1992 Florida's Official Band by order of the state legislature.

That's a lot to live up to, but if Silver Threads is a measure of its talent, the honors have been well-earned. Even though the band plays it safe in this concert from September 2008, relying exclusively on well-known popular and big-band staples, everyone meshes well together and furnishes an unwavering backdrop for the ensemble's personable vocalist, Lisa Kelly

, who is heard on five of eleven numbers. The band is directed by trombonist Chris Creswell who's a member of the section but takes no solos.

Those who do (solo, that is) include trumpeter J.B. Scott, tenors Don Zentz and Rob Chapman, clarinetist Bill Prince, pianist Doug Matthews and bassist Farris Nix. Scott, who heads the jazz ensemble at the University of North Florida, is impressive whether muted ("Take the 'A' Train") or open (Neal Hefti's "Li'l Darlin'"). Prince, who plays almost every instrument known to man, is showcased on "It Had to Be You," Zentz on "Little Brown Jug" and the band's cordial bow to its neighbor to the north, Hoagy Carmichael

Hoagy Carmichael
Hoagy Carmichael
1899 - 1981
piano
's "Georgia," which rings down the curtain.

Kelly, who formerly sang with the UNF Jazz Ensemble, springs buoyantly onstage, singing and scatting on Lerner and Loewe's carefree "Almost Like Being in Love," and is heard again on "Li'l Darlin,'" the Gershwins' "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Summertime," Fats Waller

Fats Waller
Fats Waller
1904 - 1943
piano
's "Honeysuckle Rose" and Frank Foster
Frank Foster
Frank Foster
1928 - 2011
saxophone
's "Shiny Stockings." "Someone," on which Kelly plays a few wee games with the lyrics, includes its lovely opening verse.

Silver Threads serves as an abridged yet fairly honest appraisal of the present state of the SJRCB, which is doing its share to keep the big-band spirit alive in Northern Florida. The wish is that the band will still be blowing up a storm when the time comes for these premature Silver Threads to turn golden.

European Jazz Orchestra
Swinging Europe 2008
Music Mecca
2009

Each year since 1996 the European Union (EU) has sponsored "Swinging Europe," a two-pronged enterprise consisting of the European Jazz Orchestra and the Trainee Band. The EJO, comprised of Europe's (and Canada's) best and most talented young musicians (the upper age limit is thirty), travels for three weeks each summer through a number of European countries, playing music composed and arranged especially for the orchestra by European artists, one of whom is chosen on a yearly basis to lead the ensemble. In 2008, the conductor / composer was Germany's Neils Klein, a modernist guided by the precepts of Gil Evans

Gil Evans
Gil Evans
1912 - 1988
composer/conductor
, Bob Brookmeyer
Bob Brookmeyer
Bob Brookmeyer
1929 - 2011
trombone
, Maria Schneider
Maria Schneider
Maria Schneider

band/orchestra
and a number of classical composers, among others. The music, of course, embodies Klein's forward-leaning perspective.

Faced with such a daunting task, the seventeen musicians from fifteen European countries (two are from Germany, lead alto Tara Davidson from Canada) never blink, deftly untangling Klein's knotty themes as if doing so were second nature. Klein knew he could expect no less, as he had been a member of the EJO's reed section as recently as 2005. The opener, "Two Circles," comes straight from the Brookmeyer playbook, developed, in Klein's words, "from one short melody statement and a small harmonic structure. The title of the piece refers to the way this 'harmonic cell' is constructed." The admirable solos are by tenor Kristian Brink, trombonist Fidel Fourneyron and drummer Matt Jacobson.

The brooding "Iyosaii," inspired, Klein writes, by a trip to Iceland and songs in "a language that doesn't exist," features trumpeter Elvind Nordset Lenning and the leader himself on tenor sax. "The 14th Voyage," showcasing Petr Kalfus' lyrical alto sax, is "loosely based on an episode in the 'Star Diaries' of Stanislaw Lem," while "the basic idea of 'Progression,'" Klein writes, "was to create a simple chord progression which seems to have no beginning and no end." Interspersed are evocative solos by bassist Robert Landfermann, tenor Jure Pukl and trombonist Andreas Tschopp. "Sky Lift," designed as "the 'soundtrack' to a short story of that name by [science fiction writer] Robert Heinlein," aims the spotlight toward Pukl's strident tenor and Quentin Liegois' mellow guitar.

"Kvapraba," written for a concert in Cologne, is "a kind of odd combination of Swedish and German," writes Klein. The abstruse theme is enhanced by drummer Jacobson, trombonist Antonis Andreou and pianist Alexandru Racovitza. The finale, "Tanzlied," is, "contrary to what the title might imply ('tanzlied' means 'dance-song'), a musical setting of the powerful dark poem 'Mein Tanzlied' by German lyricist Else Lasker-Schuler." One should have foreseen that it would not be dance music. The soloists are trumpeter Lenning, trombonist Tschopp, bassist Landfermann and baritone Kasper Wagner. Although the booklet indicates that every number was recorded in concert, there is no audience response or applause at the end of "The 14th Voyage."

The EJO's complexion will change dramatically in 2009 as Rumanian-born composer / arranger Peter Herbolzheimer

Peter Herbolzheimer
Peter Herbolzheimer
1935 - 2010
trombone
, known for his plain-spoken Rhythm Combination and Brass and his commendable stewardship of BuJazzO, Germany's leading youth ensemble, supervises the orchestra. Those whose musical temperament leans toward the straight-ahead may wish to pause and await a credible record of that excursion.


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