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Big Band Caravan

Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge / Swiss Jazz Orchestra / The Aggregation

By Published: October 1, 2009
Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge
The Comet's Tail
MAMA Records
2009

On The Comet's Tail, Chuck Owen

Chuck Owen
Chuck Owen

composer/conductor
's superb Florida-based Jazz Surge performs the compositions—yes, compositions—of the late great tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
1949 - 2007
sax, tenor
. As Owen writes in the liner notes, "[Michael's] blinding brilliance as a performer / improviser...may have inadvertently overshadowed or simply redirected attention away from his output and effectiveness as a composer."

The Surge helps redress that shortcoming via a succession of bracing themes that affirm beyond any doubt that Michael Brecker was an uncommonly gifted writer as well as a remarkably influential player. Owen's forces are buttressed along the way by a number of accomplished guest artists including Michael's brother, the celebrated trumpeter Randy Brecker

Randy Brecker
Randy Brecker
b.1945
trumpet
, saxophonists David Liebman and Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
, guitarist Mike Stern
Mike Stern
Mike Stern
b.1953
guitar
, violinist Rob Thomas, vibraphonist Mike Mainieri
Mike Mainieri
Mike Mainieri
b.1938
vibraphone
and drummer Adam Nussbaum
Adam Nussbaum
Adam Nussbaum
b.1955
drums
.

Owen arranged half of the eight selections, with the rest divided equally among Fred Stride ("Peep"), Vince Mendoza

Vince Mendoza
Vince Mendoza

band/orchestra
("Slings and Arrows"), Dave Stamps ("Sumo") and Gil Goldstein ("The Mean Time"). Randy Brecker solos smartly (muted) on the sinuous "Peep" and (flugel) on the ballad "How Long 'Til the Sun," Stern on "Peep" and "Mean Time," Liebman on "Sumo" (tenor),) "Mean Time" and "Take a Walk" (soprano), Lovano on "Walk" and "Everything Happens When You're Gone," Thomas on the lively "Itsbynne Reel," "Sun" and "Sumo," Mainieri on the spasmodic "Walk." Nussbaum sits in for drummer Danny Gottlieb
Danny Gottlieb
Danny Gottlieb
b.1953
drums
on "Mean Time" and Walk."

Jack Wilkins, the Surge's tenor soloist, blows vehemently on "Slings and Arrows," "Reel" and "Mean Time," while guitarist LaRue Nickelson

has his say on "Slings" and "Reel," pianist Per Danielsson on "Sun," trombonist Tom Brantley on "Sumo." "Everything Happens," showcasing Lovano's dreamy tenor, is a marvelous way to wrap up the radiant session.

Sound and balance are admirable, the ensemble even more so, the invited guests dazzling. In sum, a superior album by any measure, and an impressive tribute to Michael Brecker's uncommon depth and versatility.

Swiss Jazz Orchestra / Michael Zisman
Close Encounter
Mons
2009

It's not often (make that almost never) that one hears a big-band album whose principal soloist plays the bandoneon, a South American concertina that's a near cousin of the accordion and is most closely associated with the Argentine tango. But such is the case with Close Encounter, an explicitly luminous and charming enterprise by the Swiss Jazz Orchestra that features the virtuosic Michael Zisman on bandoneon.

Besides playing with intensity and panache, Zisman wrote five of the album's eight selections. The others were composed and arranged (as were Zinman's) by music director Bert Joris, a world-class trumpeter who has supervised the jazz ensemble at the Swiss Jazz School (Zinman's alma mater) for two decades. Among the hallmarks of Zinman's solo patterns are his earnest feeling for jazz and staunch propensity to swing, as he does unfailingly on every number. The same is true of the SJO's soloists who complement Zisman on half a dozen tunes. They include trombonist Andreas Tschopp and drummer Tobias Freidli ("Close Encounter"), bassist Lorenz Beveler and flugel Johannes Walter

Johannes Walter
b.1979
trumpet
("Connections"), soprano Adrian Pflugshaupt ("Triple"), Friedli, alto Juerg Bucher and tenor Till Gruenewald ("El Circo"), trombonist Vincent Lachat and flugel Daniel Woodtli ("Agua Tinta") and pianist Philip Henzli ("Sundown").

As for the songs, they are consistently bright and pleasing, from Zinman's opener, the even-tempered "Lauri," through Joris' robust finale, "Sundown." Zinman also wrote "Son Rosas," "Close Encounter," "El Circo" and "Agua Tinta," Joris "Connections" and "Triple" (on which Zinman ends his solo with a quote from Nat Adderley

Nat Adderley
Nat Adderley
b.1931
trumpet
's "Work Song"). While one's thoughts may drift from time to time toward Astor Piazzolla
Astor Piazzolla
Astor Piazzolla
1921 - 1992
bandoneon
, there are no tangos here, only well-constructed jazz themes.

Coming as it does on the heels of accordionist Richard Galliano

Richard Galliano
Richard Galliano
b.1950
accordion
's recent tour de force with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, Close Encounter may signal a seismic shift in the jazz landscape toward a couple of instruments that have been generally looked down on in recent years and seldom heard in a big-band framework whose ascription didn't include the name Lawrence Welk.

The Aggregation
Groove's Mood
Edjalen Music
2009

The Aggregation, the latest in seemingly endless parade of exemplary New York-based ensembles, is the brainchild of trumpeter Eddie Allen

Eddie Allen
Eddie Allen

trumpet
who supervises its impressive debut album, the suitably named Groove's Mood. Besides conducting, Allen wrote three of the studio date's ten numbers (including the evocative suite, "The Black Coming"), arranged all of them and solos on three.

The rhythmic ambience is embedded immediately on Allen's bustling "Groove's Mood" and bouncy "Brasilia" and the bluesy spiritual, "Wade in the Water." Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
b.1950
keyboard
's "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" introduces vocalist LaTanya Hall who not only subdues that unwieldy lyric but scores again on another of Wonder's hit songs, "My Cherie Amour." "Sunshine" is reprised as an instrumental that closes the session. As for Allen, he solos admirably on the ballad "Tenderly," Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
1938 - 2008
trumpet
's buoyant "Sky Dive" and the laid-back "Cherie Amour."

"The Black Coming" is comprised of four movements (Kidnapped / Servitude / Jubilation / Enslaved) that presumably are designed to express in musical terms the black experience in America. The tone poem traverses the gamut of human emotions, enriching spirited solos by pianist Bruce Barth

Bruce Barth
Bruce Barth
b.1958
piano
, trombonist Clifton Anderson
Clifton Anderson
Clifton Anderson
b.1957
trombone
, alto saxophonist David Glasser and trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater
Cecil Bridgewater
Cecil Bridgewater
b.1942
trumpet
. Completing the program is James Williams
James Williams
James Williams
1951 - 2004
piano
' "The Soulful Mr. Timmons," a warm salute to the days when Blue Note Records was riding high and composer / pianist Bobby Timmons
Bobby Timmons
Bobby Timmons
1935 - 1974
piano
was a master of the funk- and blues-based vernacular.

Adams is an accomplished arranger, the ensemble is well-groomed, the soloists engaging and resourceful. Besides those mentioned, they include alto Tia Fuller

Tia Fuller
Tia Fuller

saxophone
, tenors Jay Brandford and Patience Higgins, baritone Howard Johnson, trumpeters John Bailey and Guido Gonzales, trombonist Sam Burtis, bassist Dwayne Burno
Dwayne Burno
Dwayne Burno
1970 - 2013
bass
and drummer Carl Allen
Carl Allen
Carl Allen
b.1961
drums
who anchors the band's grade A rhythm section. Groove's Mood marks a splendid starting point for The Aggregation, which one hopes may continue on its groove-charted course.

New York Repertory Jazz Orchestra
Le Jazz Hot
Planet Arts
2009

Le Jazz Hot is composer / conductor / trumpeter Bill Warfield

's warm-hearted salute to Paris, the soprano saxophone in general and its leading exponent in the 1930s, Sidney Bechet
Sidney Bechet
Sidney Bechet
1897 - 1959
sax, soprano
, in particular. Bechet's best-known composition, "Le Petit Fleur," is performed no less than four times in various contexts. Guest soprano David Liebman, a Bechet / John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
disciple, is showcased throughout, and wrote "Pablo's Story," dedicated to the renowned impressionist Pablo Picasso who for many years made his home in Paris. Warfield arranged French composer Darius Milhaud's "Le Creation du Monde" for the New York Jazz Repertory Orchestra and composed "Variations on a Theme by Frank Poulanc" and "Creataloop." Completing the program is Coltrane's easygoing "Blues to Bechet."

Few jazz fans would be likely to list "Le Petite Fleur" as a personal favorite (at least, not the Acker Bilk

Acker Bilk
Acker Bilk
b.1929
clarinet
version of many years ago). The first of these four essays showcases Liebman's unaccompanied soprano sax, and is followed without pause by Tim Sessions' chorale-like arrangement for the ensemble. The third reading, a gentle tango, interlaces Warfield's trumpet, Liebman's soprano and the ensemble, while the fourth, which closes the album, is an even-tempered discourse between Liebman and pianist Tim Harrison. In sum, far more memorable and engaging than Bilk's more syrupy popular rendition.

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