We’ve sung the praises of the Brussels Jazz Orchestra before ( The September Sessions ) but never so loudly as for this new two–disc set on which the BJO plays the music of the marvelous Belgian composer / arranger / trumpeter Bert Joris. And what music it is! Melodically rich, harmonically sophisticated, invariably bright and swinging — in short, everything one could wish from an enterprising and resourceful big–band craftsman, which Joris certainly is. His sunny compositions are so perfectly suited to the talents of the BJO that one wonders, on the one hand, what took them so long to get together, while being thankful, on the other, that they’ve gotten together at all. And speaking of together, the BJO is all that and more — a world–class ensemble that is sleek and solidly built from port to starboard, stem to stern, with enough firepower and precision to master even the most demanding charts. It helps, of course, that the orchestra is not entirely unfamiliar with Joris’ music, having included two of his compositions (“Nuées d’Orage,” “Mr. Dodo”) on its album Live, and two more (“Warp 9,” “Alone at Last”) on The September Sessions. Joris gives the BJO plenty to chew on, starting on Disc 1 with “Innocent Blues,” which he modestly describes as “little more than a blues petering out,” with eighteen bars in place of the usual twelve until, halfway through, “in another meter (6/4), the eighteen bars turn out to be twelve after all.” No problem for the BJO, nor is the muted ambiance of “Walkin’ Tiptoe,” which follows. Joris solos with pianist Christoph Erbströsser on “Blues” and with trombonist Marc Godfroid on “Tiptoe.” The tempo slackens on the lovely Jazz waltz “For the Time Being,” one of three numbers on Disc 1 recorded in concert. Joris is showcased on flugel, as is pianist Erbströsser on “Jeux de reflets et de la vitesse,” written for a film of that name with thematic material, according to Joris, “borrowed from [Eric] Satie’s first ‘Gymnopedie’.” The lyrical “Magic Box,” also performed for an audience, was planned to deceive, says Joris, as “the listener should get the impression that the piece goes up half a tone, while in fact the tonality at the end of [each] chorus is . . . half a tone lower than the original.” There’s nothing misleading, however, about Bert’s invigorating trumpet solo. Disc 1 closes with another in–concert piece, the colorful “Benoit,” inspired, says Joris, by a carillon song and one of his first attempts at writing music that paints a picture, in this instance of a city awakening from its slumber as seen from atop the Antwerp cathedral. Erbströsser is heard again with trumpeter Gino Latturca, trombonist Lode Mertens (both muted) and tenor Kurt Van Herck. Disc 2, all of which was taped during concert performances, opens with the muscular “Kong’s Garden,” commissioned by the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw in the Netherlands and enclosing one of the composer’s typically sharp and eloquent trumpet solos. Joris and Van Herck then race stride–for–stride through the dynamic “Mr. Dodo,” which Bert composed for his friend and colleague, pianist Dado Moroni. “Atonal,” which, as we noted in an earlier review, is “anything but” that (it’s actually an anagram), features Laurent Blondiau’s flugel, Bo Van der Werf’s baritone sax and Jos Machtel’s acoustic bass. “Warp 9,” whose well–chosen name was taken from Joris’ favorite science–fiction series, television’s Star Trek, includes a series of breathtaking unison passages by the ensemble wrapped around warp–speed solos by Bert (flugel), Van Herck, alto Frank Vaganée and drummer Martijn Vink. “Nuées d’Orage,“ which, Joris writes, is “antipodal [diametrically opposed] to Django Reinhardt’s ‘Nuages’,” infuses a mouth–watering bossa flavor that spices delectable solos by Erbströsser and Joris, this time on trumpet. “Blue Alert,” another impressive show–stopper, allows room for trenchant statements by Vaganée, Joris and Vink, while the closing blues, “Alone at Last,” again features Vaganée and Joris, this time with drummer Dré Pallemaerts sitting in for Vink. Even though “Alone” is listed as a “bonus track,” it raises the playing time on Disc 2 only to a moderate 55:36, roughly three minutes longer than Disc 1. While applauding Joris’ writing one mustn’t overlook his playing, which is consistently brilliant as well. Among modern trumpeters he reminds me most of Chet Baker, replicating Chet’s transcendent lyricism but with far more power than Baker had on his best day. The BJO is a superlative partner, helping to make this one of the finest big–band albums of the year — if not for several years on either side. As we often say when praising big–band endeavors from overseas, if you can track down a copy, buy it.
Contact: De Werf, Werfstraat 108, B–8000 Brugge, Belgium. Phone +32–50–33 05 29; fax +32–50–34 64 90; e–mail email@example.com. Web site, www.dewerf.be. Brussels Jazz Orchestra, www.brusselsjazzorchestra.com; e–mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Track Listing: Disc 1, Innocent Blues
Personnel: Bert Joris, composer, arranger, trumpet, flugelhorn; Frank Vagan