The Big Band at the End of the Century.
There are several very fine and innovative Big Bands composing and performing right now. They include the bands headed by Carla Bley, Maria Schneider, Toshiko Akiyoshi, McCoy Tyner, and Bob Mintzer. To borrow from Downbeat
magazine, a big band "talent deserving wider recognition" is the Finnish Umo Jazz Orchestra.
Scandinavian Swing. The Umo Jazz Orchestra was founded in 1975 by a group of Finnish Jazz musicians who had been working irregularly as the Radio Dance Orchestra. Umo performed on a part time basis until 1984, when the group received funding from several Finnish local and national government concerns. Their web page discography boasts 14 records (mostly for Finnish Labels), this Naxos Jazz recording being the most recent (and the first big band outing for Naxos). In the past decade, the Umo Orchestra has supported American talent no less than that of Dizzy Gillespie, Thad Jones, Gil Evans, Joe Williams, and Billy Eckstine.
Kicking Brass. From the opener, "Frozen Petals," this disc promises to be a low brass extravaganza. Nice touch. This music is not unlike many Carla Bley arrangements. However, Bley's compositions and arrangements are almost downright shy compared to what Umo does on this disc. Several pieces employee aggressive, oratorical drumming behind the soloist that reminds the listener of Elvin Jones behind John Coltrane. This is most evident on the disc opener and, appropriately enough, Coltrane's "Equinox", where Markus Ketola percussively plows the ground beneath tenorists Manuel Dunkel ("Frozen Petals") and Eero Koivistoinen ("Equinox").
Other notable happenings on the disc are Anders Bergcrantz's fluegelhorn solo on "All Blues," Seppo Kantonen's piano on "What Is This?" and "Cuckoo's Nest," Jarmo Saari's guitar on "Tarkovski," and Markku Veijonsuo's trombone on "Blue In The Distance." All of the solos were of the highest order and the sonics of the record are superb.
A Revisionist Arrangement. This disc contains two standards: Miles Davis' "All Blues" and John Coltrane's "Equinox". They are both creatively arranged. "All Blues" begins with some vocalese before the familiar theme is stated by Bergcrantz's fluegelhorn. Once the head is executed, the rhythm shifts to a rock-like backbeat behind Bergcrantz's solo before happily deconstructing into that thing called jazz. "Equinox" turns out to be the disc's centerpiece, a 21st Century blues with Eero Koivistoinen's tenor approximating Coltrane's "sheets of sound." This is the most exciting cut on a disc that is full of exciting cuts and uniformly excellent playing. This is big, boisterous, and good-natured music. Happy and loud.
Ariadne auf Naxos Redux. Naxos is off to a famous start with their first two rounds of releases on Naxos Jazz. I agree with Gramophone 's Roger Thomas when he said of this second wave of Naxos Jazz releases, "...a retail price of [$5.99] for beautifully recorded original material once again returns me to the view that there's simply no good reason for not buying all four or these discs." The other discs in this second wave of releases are the Los Angeles Jazz Quartet, Look to the East ; James Zollar, Soaring with Bird ; and Niko Schauble, On the Other Hand (all reviewed this month in these pages).
Track Listing: Frozen Petals; All Blues; Aldebaran; What is This?; Bermuda; Blue in Distance; Cuckoo's Nest; Equinox; Life Is A Cobra; Tarkovski.