After hearing Bob Curnow's wonderful Celtic-inspired big-band composition, "Towednack," introduced at a convention of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) several years ago in Anaheim, CA, I hurried to the Sierra Music Publications booth in the exhibition hall (where I knew I'd find him) to applaud the composer. "Absolutely brilliant!" I gushed, or words to that effect. "You simply have
to record that someday."
And now here it is, sounding as radiant as I remembered it, on a marvelous new album by Germany's world-class SWR Big Band, complemented by four more of Curnow's superlative compositions and nine of his arrangements including a similarly impressive treatment of Bill Whelan's electrifying theme from the acclaimed Irish extravaganza "Riverdance." Curnow, who as a young man played trombone in the Stan Kenton Orchestra, wrote the pensive "Of Another Time" in Stan's memory, and compiled the ten-minute-long "Kenton Kollage" that precedes it by cleverly splicing together a number of Stan's most popular themes, from "Artistry in Rhythm" and "Eager Beaver" to "Intermission Riff" and "The Peanut Vendor" (with several others also heard).
Curnow certainly found the right band to play them, as SWR rises to the challenge and performs both charts magnificently, as it does everything else. Curnow also composed the playful "Keystone Shuffle," the snappy "Spencer Is Here!" (dedicated to the arrival of his latest grandson) and the enchanting "Lullaby Waltz," and arranged a trio of themes by guitarist Pat Metheny, the warm-blooded ballads "Too Soon Tomorrow" and "Not to Be Forgotten" and the rhythmically elaborate "5-5-7" (the last co-written with Lyle Mays). Returning to "Towednack" (subtitled Home Parish ), the essay derives its inspiration from the area of Cornwall that was home to Curnow's forebears. According to the liner notes, Curnow visited Cornwall, studied Celtic music, and "combined varying rhythms with ever-changing accentuations, employed pentatonic scales reminiscent of folk music, wove together all of this in constant alternation and managed to create a big band piece of art from it which is absolutely Jazz."
No matter how he did it, the finished product is, to these ears, a modest masterpiece. Curnow's other compositions are no less engaging in their own way, as are those by Metheny, but aside from "Towednack" it is "Riverdance" that most emphatically inflames the imagination and gladdens the soul. How good is Curnow's chart? Well, I don't often mention my wife, Betty, in my reviews, as her allegiance to classical music is so firm that I listen on headphones so as not to disturb the peace and quiet of our home, but after I played "Riverdance" for her, she said, "I want a copy of thatand one for my sister June!" Endorsements simply don't get much better than that.
And we can't over-praise the fabulous SWR Big Band and its phalanx of enterprising soloiststenors J'rg Kaufmann ("Towednack," "Too Soon Tomorrow," "Not to Be Forgotten," soprano on "Riverdance") and Andy Maile ("Keystone Shuffle," "Lullaby Waltz"), trumpeters Claus Reichstaller ("Too Soon," "Of Another Time") and Karl Farrent ("Shuffle," "Riverdance"), trombonists Ernst Hutter ("Shuffle") and Marc Godfroid ("Spencer," "Lullaby"), altos Axel K'hn ("Spencer") and Klaus Graf ("5-5-7"), pianist Klaus Wagenleiter ("Kollage," "Not to Be Forgotten"), bassist Decebal Badilla ("Shuffle"), guitarist Klaus-Peter Sch'pfer ("5 -5-7") and last but not least, the formidably endowed young drummer Holger Nell ("Shuffle," "Riverdance").
Are German big bands eligible for the Grammy Awards? Quick, someone, find a rule book! If they do qualify, and if you are a voting member of NARAS, please listen to Towednack before casting next year's vote for best big-band album of the year.
Contact: CK Records, Kirchstrasse 1 / 1, D?71726 Benningen, Germany (phone 07144 1 28 33; fax 07144 1 20 42; e-mail email@example.com).
Track Listing: Towednack (Home Parish); Too Soon Tomorrow; Kenton Kollage; Of Another Time (in memory of Stan Kenton); Keystone Shuffle; Not to Be Forgotten; Spencer Is Here!; 5-5-7; Lullaby Waltz; Riverdance (75:48).
Personnel: Bob Curnow, conductor, composer, arranger; Klaus Graf, Axel K?hn, alto sax; J?rg Kaufmann, Andreas Maile, tenor sax; Pierre Paquette, baritone sax; Thomas Vogel, Claus Reichstaller, Karl Farrent, Rudolf Reindl, trumpet, flugelhorn; Ernst Hutter, Marc Godfroid, Ian Cumming, trombone; Georg Maus, bass trombone, tuba; Klaus Wagenleiter, piano; Klaus-Peter Sch?pfer, guitar; Decebal Badila, bass; Holger Nell, drums.