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Big Band Caravan

Nova Jazz Orchestra / UNT One O'Clock Lab Band / Frank Macchia / Omar Sosa & NDR Big Band

By Published: March 5, 2010

Several of the arrangements defy description, which is why they've not been summarized. These include "I've Been Working on the Railroad," "Polly Wolly Doodle," "Tom Dooley," "Amazing Grace" (sung by Hall) and "The Erie Canal." Suffice to say that they too echo Macchia's whimsical approach to any task at hand. Most are rhythmically challenging, a circumstance that Macchia has surmounted by placing the peerless Peter Erskine

Peter Erskine
Peter Erskine
b.1954
drums
at the drum kit to guide an agile rhythm section that includes pianist Tom Ranier, guitarist Grant Geissman
Grant Geissman
Grant Geissman
b.1953
guitar
, bassist Trey Henry and Ray Frisby on vibes, bongos, tambourine, shaker and spoons. Macchia, Lozano, Sheppard, Mason, Wayne Bergeron
Wayne Bergeron
Wayne Bergeron

trumpet
(the ensemble's lone trumpeter), trombonists Alex Iles, Kevin Porter and Bill Reichenbach (baritone horn on "Hush, Little Baby"), Ranier and Geissman make good use of their solo turns.

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
Ceremony
Ota Records
2010

Salsa always goes down more easily when seasoned by a big band. On Ceremony, Cuban pianist Omar Sosa

Omar Sosa
Omar Sosa
b.1965
piano
'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 albums—half 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

Antonio Carlos Jobim
Antonio Carlos Jobim
1927 - 1994
piano
, Caetano Veloso
Caetano Veloso
Caetano Veloso
- 1942
guitar
, Gilberto Gil
Gilberto Gil
Gilberto Gil
b.1942
guitar
, Gal Costa
Gal Costa
Gal Costa
b.1946
vocalist
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 quartet—electric bassist Childo Tomas, drummer Julio Barreto and percussionist Marcos Ilukan—are 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
October Arrival
Hydro Jazz
2010

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
John Warren
b.1938
composer/conductor
.

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
Alun Vaughan
b.1974
bass, electric
.

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

Tom Harrell
Tom Harrell
b.1946
trumpet
or Brian Lynch
Brian Lynch
Brian Lynch
b.1956
trumpet
provides a reasonable template; for van den Berg, Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
1949 - 2007
sax, tenor
or perhaps Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
.

On October Arrival, Waterman proves beyond any doubt that he is a superb composer, arranger and soloist, and that he has assembled an orchestra that is capable of unraveling whatever design he proposes. This is high-class contemporary big band jazz with only one caveat: the 44 minute playing time is less than generous for CDs these days.

Russ Spiegel's Big Bang
Untitled
Oomph! Records
2010

To make clear his purpose, guitarist / composer Russ Spiegel

Russ Spiegel
Russ Spiegel
b.1962
guitar
calls this ensemble "big bang," not big band. And big bangs are what Spiegel's German-stocked group produces in abundance on this incendiary concert date, recorded in April 1999 in Aschaffenburg, from "Bird Droppings," Spiegel's exhilarating salute to Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
, right on through the soul-drenched finale, "Chunky." Spiegel and trumpeter Christian Meyers are the sprightly soloists on "Droppings," as they are on "Chunky."

Six of the seven numbers are original compositions by Spiegel. The other is Lionel Hampton

Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton
1908 - 2002
vibraphone
/ Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman
1909 - 1986
clarinet
's venerable "Flying Home," taken at a more moderate tempo than the original but with no less a propensity to swing. The same is true of Spiegel's other charts, whether deciphering the hard-bop canon ("Fourth Floor"), bearing emphatic witness ("The Gospel According to Agnes"), scurrying from discord to clarity ("Weedeater") or revisiting the time-honored blues ("P. Nose," featuring trombonist Alan Jacobson). Everything Spiegel touches turns to swing.

Spiegel's sturdy ensemble, two of whom (saxophonists Markus Lihocky and Peter "Lines" Linhart) were (and perhaps still are) members of the Aschaffenburger Big Band, is equal to the task, sprinting through his impulsive charts with abandon. The rhythm section (pianist Christoph Sanger, bassist Rudi Engel, drummer Andreas Neubauer) never lets the tempos drag, providing a spacious and secure comfort zone for brass and reeds while enlivening the various soloists. Spiegel shines with Lihocky (alto) on "Flying Home" and with Sanger, alto Volker Stegmann and trumpeter Thomas Siffling on "Fourth Floor." Stegmann and Sanger are eloquent on "The Gospel," Neubauer and tenor Alberto Menendez ditto on "Weedeater."

Even though recorded (technically speaking) "a century ago," Spiegel's ensemble and charts sound as fresh and alive as today. Since then, Spiegel has returned to New York City and formed another orchestra; even so, echoes of his "big bang" continue to reverberate long after the fact, and the album is warmly recommended.

Toronto Jazz Orchestra
Under a Tree
TJO
2010

The admirable Toronto Jazz Orchestra has released three albums to date, the most recent The Path in 2009 and Under a Tree six years earlier. As was noted in reviewing The Path [January 2010], the TJO is good, really good; and it can swing, really swing. While there are of course dissimilar charts on Under a Tree, everything else applies. The ensemble is razor-sharp, individually and collectively. To put it another way, everyone is in sync, in tune and on the same page. A seasoned orchestra, no doubt about that.

Eight of the album's 10 selections were recorded live in May 2003 at the Pilot Tavern in Toronto, and half were written by members of the orchestra including conductor Josh Grossman's jaunty "Together at Last," a clever variation on the standard "Alone Together." Bassist Mike Smith

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
b.1938
wrote "Alicante," pianist Laila Biali the turbulent "From Everlasting to Everlasting" (on which she also solos), bass trombonist Chris Hunter
Chris Hunter
Chris Hunter
b.1957
"First X's Free," guitarist Todd Elsliger the sensuous "Kissing." The groovy title song, which vaguely echoes Thad Jones
Thad Jones
Thad Jones
1923 - 1986
trumpet
' "Kids Are Pretty People," was composed by Canadian legend Phil Nimmons
Phil Nimmons
Phil Nimmons
b.1923
, "Reverence" by Paul Ashwell, "In Place" by Dafydd Hughes, "The Far Side" by Greg Bush, the raucous, Mingus-inspired "Return of the Shuffleupagus" by Andrew "Jr. Boy" Jones.

Although the ensemble, as noted, is alert and focused, the solos are of a more variable nature. Most are suitable but few rise far above the norm. Pianist Erin Gray is respectable on "Reverence," as are trumpeter Will Loach and alto Gareth Lewis on "Under a Tree," Gray and soprano Mark Laver on "Alicante," tenor Jonathan Kay on "Together at Last," Kay and bassist Smith on "In Place," Laver and trombonist R.J. Satchithanthanan on "First X's," guitarist Elsliger on "Kissing," Grossman on "The Far Side," tenor Chris Hunsburger and trombonist Joel Green on "Shuffleupagus." Even so, the orchestra's primary strength lies in its unflagging togetherness. For an explicit example, try "The Far Side," which opens and closes with hair-raising a cappella chorales by the brass; the surging unison passages in "Shuffleupagus," or the trim ensemble work that brightens every other tune.

While Under a Tree predates the TJO's most recent recording by half a dozen years, there's no appreciable imbalance in quality between the two, even though most of this one was recorded in concert, the other in a studio. In each case, the TJO affirms its stature as a world-class orchestra that is worthy of appraisal and respect.


Tracks and Personnel

A Time of Reckoning

Tracks: A Tribute to Francy Boland; A Time of Reckoning; W 7th; Copperhead; FEETS; North Star; Granicus; Gozar; Grembalambasamba; A Dream of Hungarian Lanterns.

Personnel: John Ahern, Sten Johnson, Tim Martin, Tom Krochock, Todd Matheson (3, 9), Adam Meckler (4), Bill Simonson (5), Mark Bobnick (8): trumpet, flugelhorn; Bob Byers: alto sax, soprano sax, flute; Sten Johnson: alto sax, flute, clarinet; Bill Burton, Paul Peterson: tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Mike Krikava: baritone sax, clarinet, bass clarinet; Mike Larson, Larry McCabe, Chris Wiley: trombone; Ike Wagner: bass trombone; Bruce Penalty: piano/Fender Rhodes (1, 3-6, 9, 10); Larry McDonough: piano (2, 7, 8); John Hyvarinen: guitar (5); Pooch Heine (1, 2, 5, 7, 8), Matt Mobley (4, 3, 6, 9), Greg Stinson (10): bass; Dave Perry, Kevin Dammen (1, 3, 9): drums. Special guest soloists: Dave Hagedorn: vibes; Dave Marden: flute, piccolo.

Lab 2009

Tracks: Sno' Peas; Dark Matters; Another Other; Li'l Darlin'; Unformal; Time Sensitive; Here Comes McBride; November; Ice-Nine.

Personnel: Steve Wiest: director; James Blackwell, Matt Timm, Thomas Davis, Clynt Yerkes, Pete Clagett: trumpet; Sam Reid, Collin Hauser, Sylvester Onyejiaka, Brian Clancy, Chris Mike: reeds; Dave Richards, Luke Brimhall, Carl Lundgren: trombone; Matt Jefferson, Jason Hausback: bass trombone; Ben Haugland: piano; Ryan Davidson: guitar; Ryan Hagler: bass; Michael D'Angelo: drums.

Folk Songs for Jazzers

Tracks: I've Been Working on the Railroad; Red River Valley; Skip to My Lou; Oh! Susanna; Did You Ever See a Lassie?; Polly Wolly Doodle; Tom Dooley; The Arkansas Traveler; Amazing Grace; The Erie Canal; Hush, Little Baby; The Blue Tail Fly; Kumbaya; On Top of Old Smokey.

Personnel: Frank Macchia, leader, arranger, piccolo, alto flute, bass flute, contrabass flute, clarinet, alto clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet; Wayne Bergeron: trumpet, flugelhorn; Sal Lozano: alto sax, piccolo, flute, bass flute, clarinet, bass clarinet; Bob Sheppard: soprano sax, tenor sax, piccolo, flute, alto flute, bass flute, clarinet, bass clarinet; Jay Mason: baritone sax, bass sax, piccolo, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, English horn; Alex Iles: trombone, baritone horn, tuba; Kevin Porter, Bill Reichenbach: trombone, bass trombone, baritone horn, tuba; Tom Ranier: acoustic, electric piano; Grant Geissman: electric guitar, banjo; Trey Henry: acoustic bass, electric bass; Peter Erskine: drums; Tierney Sutton, Ellis Hall, vocals.

Ceremony

Tracks: Llegada Con Elegba; Chango en Esmeraldas; Danzon de Tus Ojos; Yemaya en el Cielo; Cha con Marimba; Mi Tradicion; Carambaba; Monkuru; Salida Con Elegba.

Personnel: Omar Sosa: composer, piano, vibraphone, marimba, percussion; Jaques Morelenbaum: arranger, cello; Thorsten Benkenstein, Ingolf Burkhardt, Claus Stotter, Reiner Winterschladen, Stephan Meinberg (6, 7, 9), Torsten Maass (6): trumpet, flugelhorn; Fiete Felsch: alto sax, soprano sax, flute, clarinet; Peter Bolte: alto sax, flute; Christof Lauer, Lutz Buchner: tenor, soprano sax, clarinet; Frank Delle: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Dan Gottschall, Klaus Heidenreich, Stefan Lottermann, Gunter Bollmann (6, 7, 9), Jon Welch (6, 7, 9): trombone; Ingo Lahme: bass trombone, tuba; Stephan Dietz, Roland Cabezas: guitar; Lucas Lindholm: acoustic bass; Childo Tomas: electric bass; Julio Barreto: drums; Marcio Doctor: percussion; Marcos Ilukan: bata drums, congas, cajon de rumba, guiro; Michael Spiro: bata drums, congas, chekere, timbal.

October Arrival

Tracks: Call It a Day; A Passing Glance; Destination Unknown; October Arrival; October Interlude; Journey's End.

Personnel: Steve Waterman: leader, composer, arranger, trumpet soloist; Bob Moeller, Gethin Liddington, Edward John, Derek Lawton (1, 4, 6), Andy George (2, 3): trumpet; Eric Clarke, Richard Hamer: alto sax; Russell van den Berg, Tom Harries: tenor sax; Mike Starr: baritone sax; Martin Gladdish, Phil Jarvis, Chris Thomas (1, 4, 6), James Voros (2, 3), Andrew Williams: trombone; Dave Cottle: piano; James Chadwick: guitar; Alun Vaughan: bass; Richard Newby: drums.

Big Bang

Tracks: Bird Droppings; Flying Home; Fourth Floor; The Gospel (According to Agnes); Weedeater; P. Nose; Chunky.

Personnel: Russ Spiegel: leader, composer, arranger, guitar; Ralf Nusske, Martin Auer, Christian Meyers, Thomas Siffling: trumpet; Markus Lihocky, Volker Stegmann, Peter "Lines" Linhart, Alberto Menendez, Martin Serb: reeds; Alan Jacobsen, Thomas Sauter, Viola Engelbrecht, Geor Maus: trombone; Christoph Sanger: piano; Rudi Engel: bass; Andreas Neubauer: drums.

Under a Tree

Tracks: Under a Tree; Alicante; From Everlasting to Everlasting; Reverence; Together at Last; In Place; First X's Free; Kissing; The Far Side; Return of the Shuffeupagus.

Personnel: Josh Grossman: conductor, trumpet, flugelhorn; Dave Dulong, Steve Dyte, Will Loach, Marcius Extavour: trumpet, flugelhorn; Gareth Lewis: alto sax, clarinet; Mark Laver: alto sax, flute; Chris Hunsburger: tenor sax; Jonathan Kay: tenor, soprano sax; Erica Jensen: baritone sax; Joel Green, Mark Grieve, R.J. Satchithananthan: trombone; Chris Hunt: bass trombone; Erin Gray, Laila Biali: piano (3); Todd Elsliger: guitar; Mike Smith: bass; Dave MacDougall: drums.



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