Resonance Big Band / Sammy Nestico-SWR Big Band / Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra / Alf Clausen Jazz Orchestra
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'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's "Honeysuckle Rose" and Frank Foster'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
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, Bob Brookmeyer, Maria Schneider 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."