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The Ebony Big Band: The Music of Robert F. Graettinger: Live at the Paradiso (2003)

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The Ebony Big Band: The Music of Robert F. Graettinger: Live at the Paradiso No stars How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Robert Graettinger, who made his mark as a composer / arranger for Stan Kenton’s “Innovations in Modern Music” Orchestra (1947-51), is remembered today by no more than a small circle of jazz aficionados who heard and appreciated such groundbreaking works as “City of Glass” and “Thermopylae,” among others.

Graettinger was only thirty-four when he succumbed to cancer in 1957, and the bulk of his scores, many of which were never recorded or even performed, languished in obscurity for decades until brought to light by Werner Herbers, founder and conductor of the Netherlands’ Ebony Big Band, which “is concerned with the performance of modern, unusual and adventurous music” with “attention devoted to the work of less well-known composers worthy of (re)discovery.” Few composers match that description more accurately than Robert Graettinger.

Some of Graettinger’s scores were found in the Jazz Studies department at the University of North Texas in Denton, which has housed Kenton’s musical estate (including more than 2,300 charts) since Stan’s death in 1979; others were found in the university library’s manuscript department. Some of the documents were in poor condition, and none had been completed (Werners inserted the missing pieces); with one exception, they were shorter works intended to fill space on 78rpm recordings of Kenton’s “normal” repertoire (including provocative treatments of several well-known standards).

The anomaly is the three-movement “Suite for String Trio and Wind Quartet,” which is performed here in a concert setting with eighteen other compositions and / or arrangements by Graettinger. Included are five untitled originals, one of which was apparently written for trombonist Frank Rosolino, another for trumpeter Conte Candoli. Ebony’s Martijn Sohier sits in for Rosolino, Jan Wessels for Candoli.

The revelation here is the accessibility of Graettinger’s arrangements, which are always sophisticated and demanding but by and large free of ostentation and dissonance. American-born and classically-trained vocalist Claron McFadden joins the band on four selections (“Loverman,” “Too Marvelous for Words,” “Fine & Dandy,” “Everything Happens to Me”) and is appropriately seductive, even though her gossamer soprano is often overwhelmed by Graettinger’s ear-splitting explosions of brass and reeds. It’s clear that the Ebony Band has an affinity for the composer’s unconventional temperament, having performed his music at the 1993 and ’99 Holland Festivals and issued a recording of one of those concerts, City of Glass (Channel Crossings 6394) with conductor Gunther Schuller.

This second album enables one to envision how the celebrated Stan Kenton Orchestra might have played Graettinger’s groundbreaking charts, although Stan presumably would have earmarked more space for some of his world-class soloists. There are no more than a handful of solos here, by Wessels, Sohier, tenor Maartin Ornstein and guitarist Wiek Hijmans — but Graettinger’s charts are so persuasive that one scarcely notices.

The Ebony Band deserves praise for shedding new light on a talented but sadly neglected composer / arranger who clearly was years ahead of his time and most of his contemporaries.

Contact: Channel Classics Records BV, Waaldijk 76, 4171 CG Herwijnen, the Netherlands. Web site, www.channel.nl; e-mail clubchannel@channel.nl. U.S. distributor, P.O. Box 5642, Englewood, NJ 07631; phone 201-568-1544; fax 201-568-6146.

Track Listing: Moishoaro; Beachcomber; Afternoon; Loverman; I Only Have Eyes for You; Too Marvelous for Words; Irresistible You; Condolence; Untitled Original; Suite for String Trio and Wind Quartet; Transparency; Untitled Original; Autumn in New York; Fine & Dandy; I

Personnel: Leo van Oostrom, Michiel van Dijk, alto sax; Maarten Ornstein, David Kweksilber, tenor sax; Albert Beltman, baritone sax; Bob Stoel, Fred Molenaar, horn; Jelle Schouten, Peter Masseurs, Jan Wessels, Frits Damrow, Hans Alting, trumpet; Martijn Sohier, Harrie de Lange, Fans Theeuwen, Joan Reinders, Hansj

Record Label: Channel Crossings

Style: Big Band


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