Bob Mintzer Big Band / Bob Wilber and the Tuxedo Big Band / Joe Chambers Moving Pictures Orchestra
Once Chambers decided to record the Moving Pictures Suite with a big band (his first such venture at age sixty-nine), he entrusted trumpeter Weiss with the task of assembling a group especially for the performance at Dizzy's on September 16, 2011. To say that Weiss completed the assignment with precision would be an understatement, as the results of his labors are expressly audible from start to finish. In other words, this is about as impressive a band as could have been envisioned. With Chambers, Burno, Davis and Berrios in control, the rhythm section sets the rhythmic course, and everyone else keeps pace. Chambers is an astute composer / arranger (he designed every chart save "Tu-Way Pock-e-Way") whose band, on this occasion, was clearly on the same page. Even though these Moving Pictures can only be heard, not seen, they are well worth hearing and appreciating.
Brussels Jazz Orchestra
A Different Porgy & Another Bess
Lending truth in advertising its due, the Brussels Jazz Orchestra has implanted A Different Porgy & Another Bess in George Gershwin's classic American folk opera without claiming that they are in any way better than those who have preceded them, only different, leaving it to the listener's judgment to weigh the merits of this fresh interpretation when measured against those that have gone before. The different Porgy is Belgian vocalist David Linx, the new Bess Maria Joao, from Portugal. According to a press release that accompanied the album, Linx and Joao were voted Best Jazz Vocal Artists at the most recent French "Victoires de la Musique Jazz." More about them in a moment. Thanks to the BJO and its various arrangers, this is a jazzier version of P&B than is usually the case, placing it in the realm of classic recordings by Miles Davis and Bill Potts, neither of which, however, employed vocalists. It's also a moderately sanitized interpretation, an example of which is a lyric alteration that transforms "Bess You Is My Woman" to "Bess You Are My Woman," while "I Loves You Porgy" is now "I Love You Porgy." As in Stan Freberg's classic parody of "Old Man River" ("Elderly Man River"), no dialect is spoken here.
Returning to Linx and Joao, there's no doubt they can sing, confidently and on key. Linx's breathy tenor is pleasant enough, whereas Joao's Blossom Dearie-like "little girl" voice is an acquired taste. She has power, and is more impressive when she chooses to use it. One small problem, which holds true for both Linx and Joao, is that they are sometimes overpowered by the BJO's dynamic brass and reeds, which can make the lyrics difficult to apprehend. Aside from that, nothing censorious can be said about the ensemble, which is steady and resourceful throughout, embodying (unnamed) soloists whose statements are brief but cogent. This is the same BJO, by the way, which was responsible in part for producing the superb musical score for 2011's Oscar-winning "silent film," The Artist.
As to the songs, the P&B play list should be familiar to almost anyone who listens to music. All the classics are here; besides those already named, they include "A Woman Is a Sometime Thing," "My Man's Gone Now" (sung here as "My Man Is Gone Now"), "I've Got Plenty o' Nothing" and of course, "Summertime." Linx and Joao also revamp "A Red-Headed Woman," "Buzzard Song," "Oh Lord, I'm on My Way," "Clara, Clara, Don't You Be Downhearted" and "Oh, Doctor Jesus." In every case, the charts are well-designed, the vocals earnest even if at times aseptic, as Linx and Joao do the best they can to recreate the unstudied ambiance of P&B. And even when they don't, well, the album's title does say "different," and a strong case can be made for that. As noted earlier, whether different translates into better or even comparable is a verdict the listener must render.
The Urban Renewal Project
Go Big or Go Home
High-energy music by the California-based Urban Renewal Project, a thirteen-member ensemble that continues the trend of moving contemporary jazz in new and unconfined directions. Whether that is good or bad is a matter of taste and opinion. Perhaps the first issue to be resolved is why one member of the Project dropped his pants before posing for the inner jacket's group photographs. Clearly, he is making a statement of some kind, but it remains in the eye of the beholder to determine what that may be. The same is true in some respects of the music itself, which, while quite well played, is by no means canonical, employing a rapper, Logic the Topic (a.k.a. Elmer Demond Logan), to provide insight on six of the album's nine selections, the lyrics for which he also wrote. The songs on which Logic doesn't appear (and those on which he does) include additional vocals by Kenny Neely. In other words, there are no completely instrumental tracks.