Nova Jazz Orchestra / UNT One O'Clock Lab Band / Frank Macchia / Omar Sosa & NDR Big Band
Listeners should decide for themselves whether Folk Songs for Jazzers is to their liking. While it may or may not be among the topmost big band albums of the year, it is clearly one of the more resourceful. And for those who have the album in hand, Macchia has one more surprise: a "bonus" track, "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho," featuring Macchia and Valarie King on bass flute, available for online download by typing in a code word. What'll he think of next?
Omar Sosa & NDR Big Band
Salsa always goes down more easily when seasoned by a big band. On Ceremony, Cuban pianist Omar Sosa's quartet is teamed with Germany's impressive NDR ensemble on an album that brings out the best in both genres. The buoyant studio session consists primarily of superb new arrangements for big band by cellist Jaques Morelenbaum of selections from Sosa's previous albumshalf a dozen from Spirit of the Roots (1999) and one apiece from Bembon (2000) and Afreecanos (2009)to which Sosa has appended brief opening and closing themes ("Llegada Con Elegba," "Salida Con Elegba").
As one would assume, irrepressible rhythms predominate, with the Cuban danzon and cha-cha expressing Sosa's ethnic heritage. To reanimate the music, Sosa and NDR producer Stefan Gerdes enlisted the sagacious Morelenbaum, who had worked previously with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa and Cesar Evora, among others. The choice, it turns out, couldn't have been more auspicious, as Morelenbaum's intrepid arrangements keep Sosa and the ensemble on their collective toes throughout. Sosa is a rhythmic powerhouse, excelling on piano, vibraphone, marimba and percussion. The other members of his quartetelectric bassist Childo Tomas, drummer Julio Barreto and percussionist Marcos Ilukanare complemented by the NDR's Stephan Diez or Roland Cabezas on guitar, bassist Lucas Lindholm, percussionist Marcio Doctor and Michael Spiro on bata drums, congas, chekere and timbal.
While the ensemble is essentially in the forefront, space is provided for generally admirable solos by Sosa, Morelenbaum, Cabezas, trumpeters Reiner Winterschladen and Claus Stotter, flugel Ingolf Burkhardt, Lutz Buchner (tenor and soprano sax), alto Peter Bolte (who goes a tad ballistic on "Chango en Esmeraldas" and "Monkuru"), trombonist Dan Gottschall, Flete Felsch (alto sax, flute) and bass clarinetist Frank Delle. Their improvisations arise naturally from the rhythmic framework that lends the studio date much of its energy and charm.
Sosa is a talented writer, Morelenbaum an accomplished arranger, and Ceremony adeptly employs their sizable talents to produce a blend that should please anyone who loves his or her salsa enlivened with an extra kick, courtesy of the NDR Big Band.
Steve Waterman Jazz Orchestra
British trumpet star Steve Waterman is clearly the axis around which October Arrival revolves. Aside from his role as leader and principal soloist, Waterman wrote every one of the album's half-dozen songs and arranged all save two"A Passing Glance" and "Destination Unknown," whose engaging charts are by John Warren.
Waterman's first-class Jazz Orchestra, formed in 2003, is comprised almost entirely of musicians from South Wales who waste no time affirming that there's a wealth of musical talent in their neighborhood. "Call It a Day" opens the session on a bracing note, rushing forward on the wings of dynamic solos by Waterman and drummer Richard Newby. Newby is also a member of Waterman's quintet, as is tenor saxophonist Russell van den Berg who secures blowing space on every other number. The tempo slows on the lyrical "Passing Glance," whose brief introduction by pianist Dave Cottle precedes admirable solos by Waterman, van den Berg and bassist Alun Vaughan.
Earnest statements by Waterman, van den Berg and Newby punctuate the rhythmic "Destination Unknown," which precedes an even-tempered title selection whose chorale-like ensemble passages underline ardent solos by Waterman and van den Berg. Trumpet and tenor are unaccompanied on the brief yet colorful "October Interlude," which yields without pause to the buoyant finale, "Journey's End," whose luminous solos are by Cottle, van den Berg and an unlisted trombonist. As Waterman and van den Berg are heard most often, a word about their respective lineage seems in order. When appraising Waterman, Tom Harrell or Brian Lynch provides a reasonable template; for van den Berg, Michael Brecker or perhaps Joe Lovano.