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Big Band Caravan

Kris Berg & the Metroplexity Big Band / Michael Treni Big Band / Millennium Jazz Orchestra

By Published: September 9, 2012
A case in point is "Something's Coming," written by Leonard Bernstein for the Broadway musical West Side Story, a song whose natural swing is reinforced by Treni's clever use of muted trumpets in waltz time set against a rhythmic framework that underlines strong statements by trumpeter Vinnie Cutro
Vinnie Cutro
and the band's key soloist, Jerry Bergonzi
Jerry Bergonzi
Jerry Bergonzi
(on soprano sax). The bracing "Boy's Night Out," a tribute to Thad Jones that celebrates the joy of hanging out and playing in various nightspots, was written by Treni in 1978, well before the influx of so many talented women who have breathed into jazz a new life and diversity. The nimble solos are by soprano Sal Spicola, trombonist Philip Jones and trumpeter Chris Persad Group, The Dautaj, Marcus Gilmore , Coquito, Fri. It's always a pleasure to hear George Shearing
George Shearing
George Shearing
1919 - 2011
's "Lullaby of Birdland," especially when performed by a world-class big band whose soloists are as sharp as trombonist Matt Bilyk and tenor Frank Elmo.

Spicola (alto) and Bergonzi (tenor) share solo duties on "Strayhorn," the first of two splendid charts by jazz educator / saxophonist Jerry Coker
Jerry Coker
(the other is Billy Strayhorn
Billy Strayhorn
Billy Strayhorn
1915 - 1967
's own composition, "U.M.M.G," which spotlights Bergonzi, pianist Charles Blenzig and alto Craig Yaremko
Craig Yaremko
). Rounding out the program are Treni's sensuous Latin-style ballad, "In My Quiet Time," his boisterous "What Is the World Coming To?" and perceptive arrangement of the standard "Here's That Rainy Day." Treni uses a string quartet on "Quiet Time" and "Rainy Day," blending Ken Hitchcock's alto flute on the former with earnest solos by Elmo (soprano) and bassist Takashi Otsuka. Hitchcock (tenor), Cutro, Yaremko and trombonist Bob Ferrel dazzle on "World," Blenzig and Treni on "Rainy Day," which opens temperately before morphing into an ebullient flag-waver.

If big bands are indeed dead (or at least comatose), why is it that outstanding ensembles such as Michael Treni's keep showing up? That's a question for the ages. Until someone works out a plausible answer, let's relax and enjoy the music.

Millennium Jazz Orchestra

Pretty Pumps


Dutch composer / arranger Joan Reinders isn't well-known (in fact, hardly known at all) on this side of the Pond but really should be, as he is among the best anywhere at what he does, which is basically writing and arranging for big bands including the splendid Millennium Jazz Orchestra (formerly the Big Barchem Band). For Pretty Pumps, the MJO's seventh recording since it was formed in the millennial year 2000, Reinders wrote and arranged everything, and his work is as impressive as any big-band jazz you're likely to hear, in the Netherlands or well beyond its borders.

It goes without saying, of course (but we'll say it anyway), that even the most inspired compositions and charts are impractical without a capable band to play them. It is here that Reinders unfolds a winning hand, as the MJO is as polished as contemporary ensembles come (even after factoring in tenor saxophonist Remco Keijzer's over-the top screeching on the title selection). Alto Gerlo Hesselink adds a more moderate solo on that number, and is showcased on the elegant "Humble & Handy." Trombonist Vincent Veneman is a muted pleasure on the ballad "Alliance" and solos with baritone Job Helmers on the pensive finale, "Recovery." Helmers and bassist Joep Lumeij command center stage on the light-hearted "Epoxy," which opens the session, while a more subdued Keijzer shares solo duties with the ebullient pianist Dirk Balthaus on the free and easy "Schemer," Balthaus and trumpeter Bert Fransen on "Papoutsakia," a Bill Holman-like smorgasbord whose bracing grooves give the various sections (including rhythm) ample room to shine, which they clearly do.

Slowly but surely, the center of big-band jazz seems to be shifting eastward as more talented ensembles from Europe and Asia arise to challenge their counterparts in the U.S. and Canada. The Millennium Jazz Orchestra is one among many who are capable of going toe-to-toe with any band. The sections are clean, the soloists articulate and enterprising, while Reinders' charts are sharp and resourceful. A superlative big-band album by any measure.

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