Swingin' on a Riff . . . Hangin' by a Thread?
For those who may be unfamiliar with Rosengren, he has been a pillar of the Swedish jazz scene for more than half a century, having played and recorded with almost every fellow countryman of note as well as American standouts such as Parlan, Raney, Don Cherry, George Russell, Lester Bowie and others. While some of those names exemplify Rosengren's later forays into more experimental music, there is none of that hereeverything is straight-ahead and swinging in the most admirable big-band tradition. In fact, several of Rosengren's compositions are so fresh and charming they could easily be envisioned as jazz standards. If there's a downside it lies in the LP-length forty-three-minute playing time, as the album was recorded a couple years before the advent of the compact disc. On the other hand, none of the forty-three minutes is wasted time, as Rosengren, the band and their invited guests sparkle from start to finish.
Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra
Letter to a Friend
Art Beat Music
The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! This time, however, they arrive bearing "explosives" of a more salutary nature, the kind launched enthusiastically by St. Petersburg's dynamic three-year-old Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra on its splendid debut album, Letter to a Friend. It matters not where these Russians have been; it's simply wonderful to have them here, even if only on a recording. And while the name of guest saxophonist Igor Butman (who resides in St. Petersburg) will be the only one familiar to listeners in the U.S., that matters not either, as every chair and music stand in the orchestra should have the label "world-class" stamped across it.
That applies especially to co-leader / baritone saxophonist Serge Bogdanov who drafted the incandescent charts (all of them) and solos adroitly (with a touch of Mulligan) on "Letter to a Friend" and "September Boy." That the Russians have been listening closely to their American (and European and Asian) counterparts is undeniable, as ensemble passages are sharp and swinging throughout, the solos comparable to those heard in any big band from coast to coast and around the world. In fact, hearing the JPO for the first time is akin to panning for gold and suddenly unearthing a precious nugget. These gentlemen (and one lady, alto saxophonist Maria Art) even take Franz Gruber's timeworn hymn, "Silent Night," and transform it into big- band riches. What is most difficult to grasp is that these well-schooled musicians range in age from twenty-five to thirty!
Seven of the album's ten songs were written by Russians (four by the band's long-time mentor, Gennady Golshtein), the others by Gruber, Duke Ellington ("Love You Madly") and former Basie star Frank Wess ("You Made a Good Move"). Alexander Berenson composed the shuffling opener, "Desiderata" (which sounds nothing like the "Desiderata" I've heard before), whose agile soloists are Butman (tenor) and flugel Aleksey Dimitriev. Golshtein wrote the next four numbers "Theme for Tima," "Letter to a Friend," "Sleeping Ships," "In the Westside"and they are as admirable as any big-band charts you're likely to hear anywhere. Alto saxophonist Kirill Bubyakin solos with Bogdanov on "Letter," while pianist Andrey Zimovets is showcased on the seductive "Ships." The bop-inspired "Tima" encompasses bright solos by Zimovets, guest flugel David Goloschekin, tenor Juriy Bogatirev and drummer Egor Krukovskih; Zimovets, Bubyakin and Goloschekin share blowing space on the bright, fast-paced "Westside" (which sounds, as does "Letter to a Friend," not far removed from something Ernie Wilkins, Thad Jones, Sammy Nestico or Frank Foster might have written).