A trio of albums on Music Mecca by Denmark’s world–class Klüvers Big Band, among eight we’ve now reviewed by the soon–to–be 25–year–old ensemble, and two of which — Silver Street
and Tribute to Duke
— stand head and shoulders above the others. The third, Better Believe It,
featuring two talented Americans, trumpeter Byron Stripling and drummer Dennis Mackrel, would be in the same league were it not for the fact that Stripling wants to be a singer as well as a trumpeter. The superb guest artists on Silver Street
are Danish organist Kjeld Lauritsen and tenor saxophonist and American expatriate Bob Rockwell; on Tribute to Duke,
the widely admired American alto saxophonist Vincent Herring. Street
was recorded in a studio, the others in concert during the annual Ridehuset festival at Aarhus. All of the well–crafted arrangements on Street
are by another American, Eastman–trained David Springfield. Rockwell, who has lived in Copenhagen since 1983, solos on all but two numbers. He sounds — for comparison’s sake only — much like Lovano, Brecker, Margitza, Berg and other prominent post–boppers, and always has some engaging ideas to share. Lauritsen, featured on seven selections, is a hard–nosed swinger from the fiery Smith–DeFrancesco–McGriff–McDuff school who has been a leading light on Denmark’s Jazz scene for many years. Lauritsen wrote “Silver Street,” Springfield the breezy “Gibbs Street Blues” and brooding “Blues Noir.” Completing the session are two compositions by Hank Mobley (“A Dab of This and That,” “No Argument”), Randy Weston’s “Berkshire Blues,” Nat Adderley’s “Work Song,” Ellington’s “Warm Valley,” Mel Tormé’s “Born to Be Blue” and Leo Robin’s seldom–heard standard, “A Gal in Calico.” While Rockwell and Lauritsen arrogate much of the solo space, there are trenchant statements by baritone Finn Henriksen, guitarist Søren Bo Addemos, pianist Lisbeth Iversen, bassist Jens Jefsen and drummer Morten Lund. The KBB is in superior form throughout, and Silver Street
is warmly recommended to big–band enthusiasts.
So, too, is Tribute to Duke, recorded in 1999 to mark the hundredth anniversary of that transcendent composer’s birth. After opening with Don Sebesky’s brightly rocking arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train,” the band surveys Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” and “Main Stem” and Strayhorn’s “After All,” each one marvelously scored by the KBB’s chief arranger, Springfield. Another American, Bill Dobbins, former head of the Jazz department at the Eastman School of Music, arranged the three–part Tribute to Duke (“Love You Madly,” “Come Sunday,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing”) and the spirited finale, Ellington’s “Take the Coltrane.” Herring, a disciple of Bird and Cannonball who has developed his own persuasive voice, solos on every number, alone on four and with pianist Iversen, guitarist Addemos and trumpeter Lars Schuster (“‘A’ Train”), Addemos and trombonist Nikolai Pedersen (“Main Stem”), Addemos again (“It Don’t Mean a Thing”), drummer Lund and fiery tenor Michael Bladt (“Take the Coltrane”). As on Silver Street, the KBB shows that it can run stride for stride with the most enterprising big bands Europe and North America (not to mention Japan) have to offer. The rhythm section (Iversen, Jefsen, Addemos, Lund, percussionist Steen Råhauge) is especially impressive. Another keeper.
Stripling, invited to play and sing on Better Believe It to help the band mark the centenary of legendary trumpeter Louis Armstrong’s birth, takes full advantage of the occasion, singing on seven of the album’s eleven tracks, scatting (quite well, actually) and presenting a clever but overlong version of Clark Terry’s “mumbles” on Dizzy Gillespie’s swinging novelty tune, “Ooo–pa–pa–da.” Stripling is more entertainer than accomplished singer; he sounds nothing like Armstrong but half–“talks” his vocals, as did Louis, with occasional nods toward Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, Louis Prima, Al Hibbler, Jay McShann and others. The instrumentals, on each of which Stripling solos on trumpet, are the Basie–like “Better Believe It,” arranger Vaughn Wiester’s syncopated treatment of “Indiana” and Butch Lacy’s earnest “Prayer for Pops,” which ends the concert. Again, the KBB’s soloists aren’t heard often but make emphatic statements when they are. They include tenor Bladt and pianist Iversen (“Better Believe It”), trombonist Pedersen (“Tired of Pretty Women,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”), Iversen again (“Dinah”), Bladt and alto “Chappe” Jensen (“Ooo–pa–pa–da”). Mackrel, meanwhile, enhances the ensemble’s already potent rhythm section, adding zest to a largely entertaining concert that is best appreciated by those who consider singing an important part of the big–band experience.
Contact:Klüvers Big Band, Karetmagergaarden, Graven 25, Denmark 80000. Phone +45 86 20 16 88; e–mail email@example.com; web site, www.cdjazz.com