The Netherlands's Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw, which started life in 1996 as the New Concert Big Band, a successor to such leading lights as Count Basie
and Woody Herman
, has evolved since then into an up-to-date ensemble that more closely resembles New York's Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
or composer Bill Holman
's legendary West Coast rehearsal band. On its two-CD set Crossroads
, the JOC showcases compositions and arrangements by members of the orchestra, with disc one conducted by an American, drummer Dennis Mackrel
, disc two by the group's longtime arranger, Rob Horsting
While the music is explicitly contemporary that's not to say it doesn't swing, as swing is clearly one of the orchestra's basic tenets. Soloists are on their game as well, adding vigor and spontaneity to every number. As if to underscore those points, the orchestra rushes from the starting gate on the fast-moving "Shortcut," the first of three engaging compositions by guitarist Martijn van Iterson
on the first disc, wrapping its impressive power around crisp solos by Iterson, tenor Sjoerd Dijkhuisen and pianist Hans Vroomans. Iterson also wrote the exuberant "Sixmas" and the irrepressible "Swarms," which close that session. Animated solos on "Sixmas" are by Iterson and trumpeter Jan van Duikeren
, and on "Swarms" by Iterson and tenor Simon Rigter
. They are preceded by Rigter's lustrous and charming "Olivia's Dance" and trombonist Ilja Reijngould's tasteful ballad "English Heart," with its bright solos by the composer and soprano Jorg Kaaij. Kaaij's agile groover "Jane St. 2AM," with heated solos by the composer on alto, pianist Vroomans and trombonist Bert Boeren
, completes disc one.
Three of the four numbers on disc two were written by lead alto Joris Roelofs
who solos on bass clarinet for each of them, traversing the horn's higher register while proving that the wind family's sometimes awkward stepsister can be a handsome and effective jazz solo instrument. Roelof's shadowy "Para Poli" is followed by the session's most cryptic number, the slow-paced "Ataraxia," and then "The Ninth Planet," whose more decorous harmonies and rhythms reinforce snug section work by brass and reeds. Iterson also solos on "Para Poli," while "Ataraxia" features drummer Martijn Vink
(who is supplanted by the equally adept Marcel Serierse
on disc one) and trumpeter Ruud Breuls
. Horsting composed and arranged the stalwart and bracing finale, "A Minor Confusion," whose ardent solos by Breuls and Rigter are chaperoned by dauntless ensemble work.
The JOC is a world-class orchestra, and contemporary big band jazz cannot be played much better. If part one of Crossroads
swings harder and more consistently than part two, that should be ascribed to the music itself, not to any shortcoming by the ensemble, which is spot-on throughout. The running time for the two discs totals eighty-five minutes, roughly five minutes more than a single disc can accommodate. On the one hand, that's not much bang for the buck; on the other, it is well over an hour of high-quality music. Weigh the options for yourself.