Allen Carter Big Band / Lucerne Jazz Orchestra / Joris Teepe Big Band
Meier returns with some "vocalese" on "Default Value," which, like most of the other songs, opens peacefully enough before lapsing into a more strident vein in which the soloists labor to be heard above the din. Having said that, it should be noted that everything is well-written, even when overblown, and, pleasing or not, this seems to be the direction in which big-band jazz is moving. Those who appreciate music with an earnest contemporary mind-set should welcome these new kids on the block, the Lucerne Jazz Orchestra, with open arms and ears.
Joris Teepe Big Band
We Take No Prisoners
Bassist Joris Teepe is from The Netherlands, the Joris Teepe Big Band from New York City, where Teepe has lived and worked since 1992. The booklet accompanying We Take No Prisoners includes a brief endorsement from Maria Schneider, which provides an explicit clue as to where the ensemble is positioned on the big-band landscape. This is earnest contemporary jazz in the Schneider / Gil Evans / Carla Bley / George Gruntz image, but it can and does swing, as witness the fast-moving title selection, the oddly titled flag-waver "Peace on Earth" and the carefree "It Is Peculiar" (Teepe composed and arranged every number).
Elsewhere, the music is more cerebral but no less diverting in its own way, as Teepe tries his hand at ascending and abating dynamics ("Flight 643"), new-age balladry ("Almost Lucky") and extended tone poetry ("The Princess and the Monster"). To carry out his purpose, he has at hand some of the New York area's most accomplished musicians including such well-respected sidemen as trumpeters Michael Philip Mossman and John Eckert, trombonists Noah Bless and Earl McIntyre, pianist Jon Davis, guitarist Bruce Arnold and saxophonists Mark Gross, Craig Bailey and Don Braden (tracks 5 and 6 only). Drummer Rashied Ali sits in for Gene Jackson on "Almost Lucky."
Braden solos effectively with Eckert and Teepe on "Peculiar" and with Teepe, Jackson and Davis on "Princess." Gross, Davis, Jackson and trumpeter Josh Evans are front and center on "Flight 643," Davis, McIntyre, baritone Jason W. Marshall, tenor Adam Kolker and trumpeter Vitaly Golovnev on "Prisoners," Mossman, Arnold and tenor Peter Brainin on "Peace," Arnold and Teepe on "Lucky." Everyone has ample room to stretch, and no one is less than presentable, even though there are times when some (no names invoked) step perilously close to the edge of tedium.
This is for the most part an agreeable debut for Teepe and his ensemble. Although the leader clearly leans toward the more progressive elements of big-band jazz, he hasn't turned his back on its time-honored framework, which makes his writing not only accessible but engaging. As for the band, it is first-class in every respect.
The New World Jazz Composers Octet
Big & Phat Jazz Productions
As its name professes, the Boston-area based New World Jazz Composers Octet is not, strictly speaking, a big band. On the other hand, it has a big sound, thanks in part to well-shaped charts, and is admirable enough in other respects to warrant an appraisal even in a narrative that is devoted for the most part to larger ensembles. Transitions, which is presumably the group's first album, consists of nine original compositions by five writers (three numbers each by Matthew Nicholl and co-producer Ted Pease, the others by Richard Grudzinski, Edgar Dorantes and Ken Schaphorst).
While the viewpoint is contemporary, the essential building blocks of pleasurable music, namely melody, harmony and rhythm, are never slighted, and there is much to admire in the various moods and tempos, not to mention the ways in which the assorted instruments are used to underline and enhance the listening experience. To add even more variety, brief "Interludes" featuring various members of the ensemble, which seem more spontaneous than written, have been inserted between seven of the nine selections. One of those heard most often is the group's de facto leader, Daniel Ian Smith, a resourceful soloist on soprano, alto and baritone saxophones and on flute.