On Prism, recorded in 1995 (one track) and ’98, the WDR (West German Radio) ensemble from Cologne, another of Germany’s growing phalanx of exemplary big bands, places its indelible mark on five dynamic compositions by music director Bill Dobbins and three colorful essays penned by drummer Peter Erskine and arranged by Dobbins. While these charts are definitely aimed toward the serious–minded listener, they are always accessible and swing like a pendulum, thanks largely to Erskine and his able–bodied teammates in the rhythm section — pianist Frank Chastenier, bassist Paul Goldsby and guitarist Paul Shigihara (Milan Lulic on “Seibernetics”). The first half of the program was recorded in a studio, the second half in concert. The “live” section opens with Dobbins’ briskly percolating showcase for the trumpet section, “Lo Flame,” and includes the multi–faceted “Prism” (spotlighting Erskine and alto saxophonist Heiner Wiberny), Erskine’s expressive ballad “If Only I Had Known” and his polyrhythmic salute to “Bulgaria” (one section of which features no less than five soprano saxophones playing a counter–melody to the brass in ever–higher registers before Wiberny breaks free for a scorching soprano solo). The studio recordings that precede them encompass three works by Dobbins — “Lose Your Life (And It Will Surely Find You),” “Elegy” and (from ’95) “Seiberbetics,” an homage to the pioneering German musician and educator Matyas Seiber, alongside Erskine’s lyrical “Song for Jaco.” Besides Erskine, Wiberny, Chastenier, Goldsby and Shigihara, the WDR’s battle–hardened brigade of enterprising soloists includes tenors Olivier Peters and Rolf Römer, trombonists Ludwig Nuss and Henning Berg, baritone Jens Neufang and the entire trumpet section from ’98 — Klaus Osterloh, Rick Kiefer, Rob Bruynen, John Marshall and Andy Haderer — who ignite a smoldering fire under “Lo Flame.” Neufang, Haderer and Goldsby are especially persuasive on “Song for Jaco,” as are Wiberny (on alto) and Erskine on “Prism,” Erskine again on “Bulgaria” and Chastenier on his feature, “Elegy.” The WDR is a world–class big band, and Prism provides a sparkling showcase for its remarkable talents.
Track listing: Lose Your Life (And It Will Surely Find You); Elegy; Seibernetics; Song for Jaco; Lo Flame; Prism; If Only I Had Known; Bulgaria (71:27).
Bill Dobbins, music director; Heiner Wiberny, alto, soprano sax, flute, clarinet; Harald Rosenstein, alto, soprano sax, flute; Olivier Peters, tenor, soprano sax, flute; Rolf Romer, tenor, soprano sax, clarinet; Jens Neufang, baritone, soprano sax, bass clarinet; Andy Haderer, Rob Bruyner, Klaus Osterloh, Rick Kiefer, John Marshall, trumpet, flugelhorn; Dave Horler, Ludwig Nuss, Bernt Laukamp, Henning Berg (3), trombone; Lucas Schmid, Roy Deuvall (3), bass trombone; Frank Chastenier, piano; Paul Shigihara, Milan Lulic (3), guitar; John Goldsby, bass; Peter Erskine, drums.