Rodger Fox's Wellington Jazz Orchestra / Sammy Nestico-SWR Big Band / Gran Canaria Big Band
Speaking of soloists, the splendid alto saxophonist Klaus Graf is showcased on the ballad "Samantha," pianist Klaus Wagenleiter on "A Song for Sarah" (Vaughan), flugelhornist Karl Farrent on "Satin 'n' Glass." Graf, Wagenleiter and baritone Pierre Paquette show their mettle on "Fun Time," Wagenleiter, tenor Steffen Weber, trumpeter Ralf Hesse and drummer Guido Joeris on "Not Really the Blues." Nestico's "Blue Samuel," a thinly disguised version of Frank Rosolino's "Blue Daniel," features Wagenleiter, guitarist Klaus-Peter Schoepfer, tenor Andi Maile and trombonist Marc Godfroid, while Schoepfer, Farrent, Wagenleiter, Maile and alto Joerg Kaufmann are out front on "Rare Moment," Wagenleiter and trumpeter Martijn de Laat on "A New Day," Graf and Godfroid on the suitably christened "Pair of Aces," Weber, Paquette, Farrent and trombonist Ian Cumming on Louis Armstrong's buoyant "Struttin' with Some Barbecue," Kaufmann and bassist Decebal Badila (love that name!) on "Orchids and Butterflies." Soloists, as noted, are first-class; even so, it is Nestico's impressive charts that bring the concert to life and enrapture the audience, as they have ever since he was hired as a seventeen-year-old staff arranger for radio station WCAE in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, before moving onward and upward to write for the U.S. Air Force Airmen of Note, the U.S. Marine Band and the world-renowned Basie orchestra. At the close of the concert, it sounds as though Nestico is being given a well-earned standing ovation.
Sound quality on Fun Time and More is sharp and well-balanced, as is the SWR ensemble itself. As for Nestico, he continues, much like a vintage wine, to become more tantalizing with age. Let's hope that more visits to Germany may lie ahead, and that they may encompass further productive sessions with his newfound soul mates in the wonderful SWR Big Band.
Gran Canaria Big Band
A big band from Barcelona? Really? Yes indeed, and a pretty good one at thaton an equal footing, the opinion is here, with mid-level college programs in the States. On Straight Ahead, presumably its debut album, the Gran Canaria Big Band swings nicely, diving with assurance and enthusiasm into charts by Sammy Nestico, Neal Hefti, Kenny Wheeler and others, and if profundity and nuance are sometimes lost in translation, that's quite understandable. What is important is that we have a professional ensemble from Spain that is dedicated to keeping alive the grand tradition of straight-ahead big-band jazz, and that in itself is heartwarming.
While the GCBB acquits itself fairly well as a unit, the sticking point, as with many groups not steeped in the jazz tradition, rests essentially with the solos, which are presentable but lack the spark of creativity or whatever it takes to raise them above the norm. Again, mid-level college but no more than that. The best of them are tenor saxophonist Jose Angel Vera, trumpeter / artistic director Sebastian Gil, pianist Rayko Leon and guitarist Yul Ballesteros. Another stumbling block is the material, much of which has been heard so often by American listeners, performed so marvelously by Count Basie and others, that these versions are foredoomed to sound anemic by comparison. Included are three staples from the Basie book by Hefti ("Flight of the Foo Birds," "Fawncy Meeting You," "Splanky"), another by Nestico ("Basie Straight Ahead") and five standards, all sung by Laura Simo whose endeavors are earnest but uneven. Completing the program are Wheeler's aptly named "Gentle Piece" and tasteful originals by Leon ("Calles Vacias") and Juan Aleman ("Aquellos Fueron los Anos").
In spite of its flaws, it's a pleasure to hear a band from Barcelona whose repertoire encompasses the best of American big-band jazz. The CD was recorded at the Sala Gabriel Rodo, which may be a concert hall, as it has a slightly reverberant concert-hall ambience that is not displeasing but stands apart from most studio sessions. In sum, an agreeable recital whose positive aspects overshadow its shortcomings.
U.S. Air Force Academy Falconaires
Sharing the Freedom