Darmstadter Big Band / Alon Yavnai–NDR Big Band / Red Bank Jazz Orchestra
It's clear from the outset that rhythm is at the heart of everything Yavnai writes, and there's more than a dash of Middle Eastern flavor seasoning "Bitter Roots," "Zriha" and "Ilha b'nit," each of which is a rhythmic and harmonic pleasure. When Yavnai changes pace, as he does on "Au Castagney" and "Sof" (each tastefully introduced by his unaccompanied piano), the outcome is no less rewarding. Yavnai's graceful piano also launches "Shir Ahava," a contemporary rhapsody whose Middle Eastern provenance is less conspicuous. The handsome solos are by Yavnai, Burkhardt, Buchner (tenor) and flutist Fiete Felsch. Trombonist Dan Gottshall is showcased on "Zriha," while Felsch, trumpeter Reiner Winterschladen and guitarist Sandra Hempel have their say on "Au Castagney," Felsch and baritone Frank Delle on "Bitter Roots," Yavnai, Felsch and Buchner (clarinet) on "Ilha b'nit" (whose closing shout chorus resonantly prefaces the tranquil "Sof").
Alon Yavnai is an exemplary pianist, composer and arranger, the NDR Big Band a world-class ensemble, and together they have produced an uncommonly invigorating and impressive album, one that should please any partisan of superlative big-band jazz.
Red Bank Jazz Orchestra
Strike Up the Band!
Hip City Jazz
Red Bank, NJ, is best known as the birthplace of "the Kid from Red Bank," a.k.a. the legendary William "Count" Basie, one of the most influential bandleaders of the Swing Era and beyond. The city is now home to the Red Bank Jazz Orchestra, which upholds the Basie tradition in grand style on its debut recording, Strike Up the Band! It helps, of course, to have an artistic director as renowned as Joe Muccioli, who was able in 2006 to assemble an A-list of first-call musicians from the greater New York City area to form the RBJO. Besides being top-tier sidemen, these gentlemen know their Basie, and it shows. They even form a charming vocal "chorus" on the timeworn "Baby Won't You Please Come Home," nimbly adding counterpoint to James Chirillo's rhythmic banjo.
Naturally, Basie / Neal Hefti's "The Kid from Red Bank" is on the enticing menu, along with the Count's iconic theme, "One O'Clock Jump," and songs from the libraries of the Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, Tommy Dorsey and Thad Jones / Mel Lewis orchestras. Ellington is represented by "Such Sweet Thunder" and "The Mooche," Quincy Jones by "Moanin,'" Dorsey by "I'll Never Smile Again" (featuring Wayne Goodman's muted trombone), Jones / Lewis by Thad's brassy anthem, "Us." The RBJO employs a trio of guest vocalists including Joe Piscopo, best known as a comedian, who sits in for the incomparable Frank Sinatra on one of Old Blue Eyes' swinging hits, "Come Fly with Me." Piscopo actually sings better than might be expected; on the other hand, there was only one Frank Sinatra, and Piscopo flies well below Frank's rarefied cruising range. Champian Fulton (that's a she) is bright and engaging on Benny Carter's blistering arrangement of "After You've Gone," Tony DeSare the same on Frank Loesser's "I Believe in You."
The lively opener, "Strike Up the Band," also from the Basie book, encompasses the first of three clear-headed solos by tenor saxophonist Dan Block. Trumpeter Shawn Edmonds is showcased on "Such Sweet Thunder," alto Andy Farber on a Basie-like reading of "Baby Won't You Please Come Home," soprano Bruce Williams on Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," pianist Steve Ashe on "The Kid from Red Bank." Block, Goodman and trumpeter Brian Pareschi share solo honors on "The Mooche," Pareschi, Ashe and Williams on "Moanin,'" Pareschi, trumpeter Irv Grossman and trombonist Dion Tucker on "One O'Clock Jump."
: Thanks to the RBJO, the big-band flame lit so many years ago by Basie continues to burn brightly in the maestro's hometown. Muccioli has chosen wisely his musicians and material, giving rise to a bracing studio session that embodies more than a touch of Basie in its high-spirited approach to traditional big-band jazz.
Landes Jugend Jazz Orchester Bayern
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