The Stan Sulzmann Big Band: Birthdays, Birthdays

Jack Bowers By

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Stan Sulzmann, best known to Jazz fans in Great Britain as a resourceful post–bop saxophonist with a readily identifiable sound, proves on this provocative big–band debut album (inspired by Stan’s 50th birthday party) that he is a composer / arranger whose insights and originality are well above the norm. Every selection on Birthdays, Birthdays was arranged by Sulzmann, and each one bears the mark of a first–rate craftsman who writes with the entire band in mind. Stylistically, Sulzmann is more closely aligned to such modernists as Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer, Bill Holman, George Gruntz or Maria Schneider than to, say, Neal Hefti, Ernie Wilkins, Sammy Nestico, Thad Jones or Rob McConnell. Having said that, it should be noted that the compositions (all but Brown / Henderson’s “The Thrill Is Gone” are Sulzmann’s) and arrangements do swing, albeit far more subtly than Basie, Herman or even Kenton. The more thoughtful listener, one who is willing to invest the time it takes to burrow beneath its relatively placid exterior, should derive much pleasure from Sulzmann’s inaugural endeavor, which is comprised largely of music on which he has been working quietly but steadily for the past thirty years. Sulzmann’s ensemble numbers in its ranks some of Great Britain’s finest musicians, big–band or otherwise, with emphatic solos along the way by the likes of trumpeters Kenny Wheeler, Henry Lowther and Derek Watkins; saxophonists Pete Hurt, Nigel Hitchcock, Martin Hathaway and Julian Siegel; trombonists Nichol Thompson and Pete Beachill; vibraphonist Frank Ricotti, pianist Pete Saberton, guitarist John Parricelli, drummer Paul Clarvis and Sulzmann himself, who plays toy saxophone on the aptly named “Toys.” Saberton’s solo piano is showcased on two brief tracks, “Before You Know It” (1:39) and “More Lemonade” (1:49); the ensemble as a whole performs on the other eleven selections. Several of the tunes were written by Sulzmann for smaller groups, ranging from duo (“Little Dog,” “MIdnight”) to trio (“Keshav,” “Birthdays, Birthdays") or quartet ("Snow") and re-scored for the big band. Another standout chart, "The Thrill Is Gone," was Sulzmann's first arrangement for the London Jazz Orchestra. In a way, the album is reminiscent of Bob Curnow's release several years ago of the music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays - not squarely in the mainstream nor explicitly avant-garde. In other words, inclusively modern without being harsh or discordant. Birthdays, Birthdays won't sweeten everyone's cup of tea, as the English might put it, but those who pause for more than a sip or two may find it has quite an agreeable flavor.

Contact:Werner Mathys, Staldenweg 54, CH–8965 Berikon, Switzerland (056 / 63 38 5 38; 076 / 38 38 5 38; www.bigbandsound.ch; mathys.w@swissonline.ch).

Track Listing: Snow; Little Dog; Newness; The Thrill Is Gone; Doriana; Keshav; Midnight; Piccolo; Toys; Seeing M; Birthdays, Birthdays (64:08).

Personnel: Stan Sulzmann, leader, composer, saxophone. Tracks 1, 2, 6, 8, 11

Title: Birthdays, Birthdays | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Village Life


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