Yet another excellent big band from Germany, this one from the small city of Dorsten (pop. 80,000), at the northern edge of the Ruhregebiet area, which marked its twentieth anniversary by releasing the splendid album Critic's Choice
. I don't know whether this is a professional ensemble (I suspect not) but it surely plays like one.
As the band was founded in 1981 as a part of the local music school, the album must have been recorded five years ago. The liner notes are in German, but I learned some of BBD's history from music director Hans Christian Dörrscheidt. Among other things, he said he tries to find material by eminent jazz composers that is "off the beaten path," in other words, songs not often played by other ensembles. At the time of the recording, he writes, "I had just discovered Oliver Nelson's music, hence the fairly large share [four] of Nelson charts... with long-time favorites from our book by Ellington and Strayhorn, Brad Morey's arrangement of "Summertime, the standard "That's All (on which the ensemble shines at an agreeably sunny tempo), Dennis Mackrel's "Blues in the 2% and a delightful closing variation on Brahms' lullaby, "The Last Encore.
Nelson's charts are played consecutively (and admirably), following Mackrel's well-grooved, Basie-like "Blues and preceding the venerable "Summertime, which is given new life in Morey's swinging arrangement. Strayhorn is represented by the dark-toned "Half the Fun, Ellington by the familiar "Satin Doll, Miles Davis by the evocative "All Blues. Among Nelson's quartet, perhaps the best-known are "Miss Fine and "Hoedown.
Soloists are unassuming but likable, with tenor Carin Groth, flutist Wolfgang Surrey and trombonist Matthias Fliege earning extra style points on "Blues. Others weighing in are alto Witold Grohs, baritone Stefan Roberts, trumpeters Karsten Boiar and Michael Langkamp, trombonist Stephan Schulze, pianist Olaf Schneider and bassist Alex Morsey (who is steady as a rock throughout, as are Schneider and drummer Uli Schmeing).
It's comforting to know that bands as good as this one continue to perform in such out-of-the-way places as Dorsten, Germany. Although the residents may not know it, they are lucky to have an ensemble of this caliber representing the city. Critic's Choice is a handsome scrapbook of straight-ahead big band jazz, and while it may be hard to find, it is well worth seeking out.