"Lone Wolf" Finds Plenty to Chew On
Tom Matta Big Band
With so many high-caliber big bands, college and professional, on the scene today, one sure way to separate the sheep from the goats, so to speak, lies in the quality of music they perform, and it is here that the Tom Matta Big Band has a decided advantage. Matta's name and reputation are well known among jazz fans in the Chicago area, not so much elsewhereand that's too bad, as the Minnesota native's knack for writing tasteful and exciting big-band charts is second to none. Matta wrote and arranged every number on Components, his debut as leader after years of playing in and writing for groups of various sizes in his adopted hometown, and the end result is a series of sharp and colorful themes that exemplify the best in contemporary big-band music-making.
Nowadays, almost no big-band album is complete without "Another Shuffle," and Matta places his at the forefront, a sunny refrain that cushions earnest solos by pianist Jeremy Kahn and trumpeter Bob Lark, Matta's teaching colleague at Chicago's DePaul University. The breezy "Time to Spare" embodies forceful statements by trombonist Steve Horne, trumpeter Marques Carroll and tenor saxophonist Mark Colby who is out front again, this time with pianist Ron Perrillo, on the deceptively powerful "Components." Matta slows the pace on "August Dreams," a handsome ballad whose discerning solos are delivered by Kahn and trombonist Tom Garling. As there are no liner notes, one must guess to whom "For Gil" was written; Gil Evans, perhaps? In any case, it's a laid-back tune whose melody brings to mind the standard "Time on My Hands" and on which alto saxophonist Chris Madsen and guitarist Mike Pinto share blowing space. "Eleventh Hour," written for trumpeter Rob Parton's band, is the session's flag-waver, Lark and tenor Dan Nicholson its ardent soloists. Nicholson, Pinto and trombonist Tim Coffman are suitably enlivened on the seductive finale, "Next Season."
Even though Matta's name may not ring a bell, don't let that dissuade you. His c.v. is impeccable, his talents exceptional, and he has gathered around him a number of the finest jazz musicians Chicago has to offer (we've not even mentioned the splendid rhythm section, securely anchored by drummer Bob Rummage and including Pinto, pianists Perrillo or Kahn, and bassists Dennis Carroll or Joe Policastro). These are among the Components that help raise Matta's debut above the ordinary and make it an extra special experience.
Sandviken Big Band
In Concert, Vols. 1 and 2
Vols. 1 and 2, encompassing live performances by Sweden's world-class Sandviken Big Band, is not a two-CD set but separate albums recorded at concerts in 2008, 2011 and 2012. In terms of perspective and content, the albums couldn't be more dissimilar. Vol. 1 is comprised mainly of late-model original compositions with a couple of standards thrown in to water down the heady brew, while Vol. 2 welcomes clarinetist Krister Andersson in a program devoted for the most part to classic songs from the Swing Era, again with a handful of standards and other themes presented as counterweight. In both cases, however, the Sandviken Big Band is the headliner, and that is always a plus.