Five years have passed since last I saw and heard the Swiss Jazz Orchestra in New York City, and this latest album (there is at least one other, Live in Montreux, that I know of) serves as a welcome reminder of what an outstanding ensemble it is. The SJSO, ably directed by world-class trumpeter Bert Joris, has devised a provocative game plan this time around, using a different professional soloist on each of the album’s nine selections, starting with Joris himself on his own rip-snorting composition, “Kong’s Garden.”
Except for vibraphonist Silvano Bazan, who performs Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler’s “Get Happy,” and vocalist Sandy Patton (Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood”), the other guest artists perform their own compositions as well. Joris is followed by alto saxophonist and SJS director George Robert (“A Day in Paris”), guitarist Francis Coletta (“Surfin’ on the Neck”), acclaimed tenor saxophonist Andy Scherrer (“Second Step”), Patton, Bazan, pianist William Evans (“Sundance”), organist Günter Kühlwein (“Old Times”) and trombonist Robert Morgenthaler (“On the Move”). Although Bazan is listed before Patton on the booklet and tray, his vibes feature actually follows her vocal.
The SJSO has a number of able soloists of its own, including alto saxophonist Till Grünewald (“Surfin’ on the Neck”), tenor Dirk Oesch (“Sentimental Mood”) and guitarist Lorenzo Herrnhut (“On the Move”). But it is the ensemble as a whole that impresses most thoroughly, carrying out its assignments with the sort of energy and élan that ensures the highest level of comfort for each of its prominent guests. While the rhythm sections vary from track to track, that doesn’t seem to make any difference, as the orchestra charts a steady course no matter who is at the helm.
If I lean slightly toward the selections by Joris, Robert, Coletta, Scherrer and Bazan, that is no more than personal preference, as everything on the album is more than agreeable. A splendid orchestra with (invited) soloists to match.