These releases by Norwegian trombonist Jens Wendelboe’s appropriately named Big Crazy Energy Band date from 1991–92, and they show again that while Wendelboe is an excellent Jazz composer/arranger, he is never one to take himself or the music too seriously, sprucing up his works with all manner of modern contrivances and conferring on them such highly descriptive names as “Fanfare and Punk (for the Monkey and the Monk).” There is some overlap, as Elisabeth Moberg sings “We Need Us All” on Volumes 1 and 2 (she’s also heard on “Take the Chance,” Vol. 1, and “Seasons Wander,” Vol. 2). Each disc contains an extended and charming three–part suite, and Wendelboe fashions an opulent arrangement of the hymn “Abide with Me” on Vol. 1 (written by William Henry Monk, who could be the Monk referred to in “Fanfare” and not Thelonious) to feature organist Christian Bugge Wesseltoft. Wendelboe solos sparingly, but shows his superior chops on “Husky Walk,” “Free Fall” and “The Waiting Collapse” (Vol. 1) and “Over and Out,” “Cayo Hueso” and “The Morning Bird” (Vol. 2). The band boasts a number of other respectable soloists including Wesseltoft, saxophonists Daniel Wilensky, Knut Riisnaes and Vidar Johansen, trumpeter Petter Kateraas and drummer Erik Smith (who anchors a nimble rhythm section). It’s hard to describe Wendelboe’s compositional approach except to say that it’s closer to Henry Threadgill, Lester Bowie or Maria Schneider than to Basie or Ellington, and always, as we said, laced with humor and surprise. While the titles of his suite on Vol. 1 (“Free Fall,” “The Waiting Collapse,” “The End”) resonate with portents of gloom and doom, the music itself doesn’t convey such a somber point of view; on the contrary, it is, more often than not, conspicuously upbeat. “The End” is a funky shuffle that reminds one of something Bob Mintzer might have written (that is, until the tempo changes and guitarist Asbjørn Ruud lives up to his name with some screeching and irksome choruses). After that, it’s almost a relief when Moberg makes her entrance on the peaceful finale, “We Need Us All.” Vol. 2 picks up where that one left off with Wendelboe’s composition, “Over and Out” (he seems to have a penchant for ominous–sounding song titles), which opens quietly before building to a thunderous climax, and the velvet–voiced Moberg’s alternate version of “We Need Us All.” Wendelboe the composer is at his best sans gimmicks on the swinging “Cayo Hueso,” which features his trombone and Wesseltoft again at the Hammond B–3, and the bustling “Crazy Place,” recorded at the 1992 Molde International Jazz Festival to showcase guest tenor saxophonist Andy Middleton. Three–Winged Bird,
the suite that closes Vol. 2 sketches three of our feathered friends, “The Morning Bird,” “The Gliding Bird” and “The Boogie Woogie Bird” (with likable solos by Wendelboe and Wilensky on Part 1, Wesseltoft on piano on Part 2, tenor Johansen and drummer Smith on Part 3). For the open–minded listener, a savory banquet of enterprising big–band Jazz.
Track listing: Volume 1 — The Night of the 1990s; Fanfare and Punk; Abide with Me; Husky Walk 86 Degrees South; Take the Chance; Suite: Free Fall, The Waiting Collapse, The End; We Need Us All (54:34). Volume 2 — Over and Out; We Need Us All; Cayo Hueso; What a Crazy Place; Seasons Wander; Suite: The Three–Winged Bird (Morning Bird, Gliding Bird, Boogie Woogie Bird) (48:40).