Dartstadter Big BandKentomaniaSelf Published
Of all the recorded tributes to the legendary Stan Kenton
released during the centennial of his birth (2011), the Darmstadter Big Band's Kentomania
(it's spelled that way on the jacket cover and disc) is unequaled for one reason alone: it has former Kenton standout Herb Geller
as a soloist, the others do not. Geller, now in his eighty-third year, is as sly as a fox and spry as a gazelle on Bill Holman
's emphatic arrangements of "Indiana" and "I Remember You" and Bill Mathieu's beguiling take on John Lewis
' "Django." While that alone should be worth the price of admission, there are other reasons to consider Kentomania,
not the least of which is that conductor Peter Linhart has assembled a world-class ensemble that readily absorbs the Kenton library and brings it vividly to life.
The album opens on a high note with Kenton's timeless theme, "Artistry in Rhythm," which segues immediately into Gerry Mulligan
's even-tempered dance-floor arrangement of the Rodgers and Hart standard "Where or When." "Indiana" is followed by Hank Levy
's seductive "Decoupage," Holman's fast-paced "Works" and his fiery arrangement of Enresto Lecuona's "Malaguena," "Django" by Bob Curnow
's rock-inflected arrangement of "Live and Let Die" and Johnny Richards
' temperate reading of Victor Young / Ned Washington's "Stella by Starlight." After Geller shines on "I Remember You," the band wraps things up neatly with Mark Taylor
's prancing "Granada Smoothie" and a brace of splendid charts by Dave Barduhn: Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" and the Hanna / Barbera cartoon classic, "Meet the Flintstones." Tenor saxophonist Linhart is the featured soloist on "Stella by Starlight" and "Flintstones," alto Dieter Bock on "Decoupage" and "Malaguena," guitarist Axel Muller-Schroth on "Live and Let Die," trumpeter Ralf Noske on "Granada Smoothie," pianist Steffen Stutz on "Send in the Clowns." None of them disappoints, nor does the ensemble as a whole.
If nothing else, Kentomania
explicitly affirms that European jazz ensembles are advancing ever closer to their American counterparts when it comes to assimilating and unraveling music that once was looked upon as inherent in our nature and thus beyond the reach of others. It helps, of course, to have Herb Geller in the lineup, but even without his presence this would remain an exemplary synopsis of the transcendent music of Stan Kenton.
Alon Yavnai / NDR Big BandShir AhavaAlon Yavnai Music
2012 Alon Yavnai
, an Israeli who began playing the piano at age four, says little about himself in the sleeve notes to Shir Ahava,
his splendid large-scale recording debut with Germany's outstanding NDR Big Band. A quick glance online, however, reveals that he studied at Boston's Berklee School of Music, earned first-place honors in the Great American Jazz Piano Competition, has played and recorded with the great Cuban multi-instrumentalist Paquito D'Rivera
(with whom he won a Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album), and has performed with such well-known musicians as Freddie Hubbard
, Regina Carter
, Joe Lovano
, Nancy Wilson
, Louis Hayes
, Ravi Coltrane
, Claudio Roditi
, Rufus Reid
and George Garzone
, among others.
Yavnai first became acquainted with the NDR Big Band while touring as a member of D'Rivera's rhythm section, wrote a couple of charts for the band, then approached producer Axel Durr to suggest that they collaborate on a full-blown big-band enterprise. Durr was receptive, so Yavnai returned to New York and started writing. The result is Shir Ahava
("Love Poem"), which enwraps seven of Yavnai's lively and colorful compositions / arrangements. Besides writing everything, Yavnai is listed as pianist but the keyboard he's playing on "Travel Notes" sounds early on more like a Persian santour than a conventional piano. Soprano Lutz Buchner and trumpeter Ingolf Burkhardt also solo on "Travel Notes," one of three numbers that run for more than ten minutes (the others are "Au Castagney" and "Ilha b'nit"). The NDR receives a vigorous workout on every track and welcomes the challenge of helping Yavnai's music come alive.
It's clear from the outset that rhythm is at the heart of everything Yavnai writes, and there's more than a dash of Middle Eastern flavor seasoning "Bitter Roots," "Zriha" and "Ilha b'nit," each of which is a rhythmic and harmonic pleasure. When Yavnai changes pace, as he does on "Au Castagney" and "Sof" (each tastefully introduced by his unaccompanied piano), the outcome is no less rewarding. Yavnai's graceful piano also launches "Shir Ahava," a contemporary rhapsody whose Middle Eastern provenance is less conspicuous. The handsome solos are by Yavnai, Burkhardt, Buchner (tenor) and flutist Fiete Felsch. Trombonist Dan Gottshall is showcased on "Zriha," while Felsch, trumpeter Reiner Winterschladen and guitarist Sandra Hempel have their say on "Au Castagney," Felsch and baritone Frank Delle on "Bitter Roots," Yavnai, Felsch and Buchner (clarinet) on "Ilha b'nit" (whose closing shout chorus resonantly prefaces the tranquil "Sof").
Alon Yavnai is an exemplary pianist, composer and arranger, the NDR Big Band a world-class ensemble, and together they have produced an uncommonly invigorating and impressive album, one that should please any partisan of superlative big-band jazz.
Red Bank Jazz OrchestraStrike Up the Band!Hip City Jazz
Red Bank, NJ, is best known as the birthplace of "the Kid from Red Bank," a.k.a. the legendary William "Count" Basie, one of the most influential bandleaders of the Swing Era and beyond. The city is now home to the Red Bank Jazz Orchestra, which upholds the Basie tradition in grand style on its debut recording, Strike Up the Band!
It helps, of course, to have an artistic director as renowned as Joe Muccioli
, who was able in 2006 to assemble an A-list of first-call musicians from the greater New York City area to form the RBJO. Besides being top-tier sidemen, these gentlemen know their Basie, and it shows. They even form a charming vocal "chorus" on the timeworn "Baby Won't You Please Come Home," nimbly adding counterpoint to James Chirillo
's rhythmic banjo.
Naturally, Basie / Neal Hefti
's "The Kid from Red Bank" is on the enticing menu, along with the Count's iconic theme, "One O'Clock Jump," and songs from the libraries of the Duke Ellington
, Quincy Jones
, Tommy Dorsey
and Thad Jones
/ Mel Lewis
orchestras. Ellington is represented by "Such Sweet Thunder" and "The Mooche," Quincy Jones by "Moanin,'" Dorsey by "I'll Never Smile Again" (featuring Wayne Goodman's muted trombone), Jones / Lewis by Thad's brassy anthem, "Us." The RBJO employs a trio of guest vocalists including Joe Piscopo, best known as a comedian, who sits in for the incomparable Frank Sinatra
on one of Old Blue Eyes' swinging hits, "Come Fly with Me." Piscopo actually sings better than might be expected; on the other hand, there was only one Frank Sinatra, and Piscopo flies well below Frank's rarefied cruising range. Champian Fulton
(that's a she) is bright and engaging on Benny Carter
's blistering arrangement of "After You've Gone," Tony DeSare
the same on Frank Loesser's "I Believe in You."
The lively opener, "Strike Up the Band," also from the Basie book, encompasses the first of three clear-headed solos by tenor saxophonist Dan Block
. Trumpeter Shawn Edmonds is showcased on "Such Sweet Thunder," alto Andy Farber
on a Basie-like reading of "Baby Won't You Please Come Home," soprano Bruce Williams
on Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," pianist Steve Meashey
on "The Kid from Red Bank." Block, Goodman and trumpeter Brian Pareschi
share solo honors on "The Mooche," Pareschi, Ashe and Williams on "Moanin,'" Pareschi, trumpeter Irv Grossman and trombonist Dion Tucker on "One O'Clock Jump."
: Thanks to the RBJO, the big-band flame lit so many years ago by Basie continues to burn brightly in the maestro's hometown. Muccioli has chosen wisely his musicians and material, giving rise to a bracing studio session that embodies more than a touch of Basie in its high-spirited approach to traditional big-band jazz.
Landes Jugend Jazz Orchester BayernWie Heisst der Typ?Self Published
Germany not only boasts a number of splendid college-level jazz ensembles, it also has youth orchestras, the best-known of which is the Bundesjazzorchester, or BuJazzO. Groups such as Landes Jugend Bayern are a step or two removed from BuJazzO; for the sake of comparison, think of the University of North Texas' flagship ensembles, the One O'Clock or Two O'Clock Lab Bands. Landes Jugend is basically at that level, which is more or less as proficient as young jazz orchestras can be. Some of the musicians in the various Landes Jugend ensembles will eventually audition for and perhaps be accepted as members of BuJazzO, whose upper age limit is twenty-five. Baritone saxophonist Florian Leuschner and trombonist Lukas Jochner, who appear on this recording from 2010, already are members of BuJazzO, while Martin Seiler, who is featured on his own composition "I Wish You All the Luck in the World," is as gifted as any young tenor saxophonist in Germany or anywhere else.
Seiler also wrote the swift and colorful "Dimwit," on which he solos with soprano saxophonist Daniel Klingl and vibraphonist Felix Prihoda, and "Abscheid," a virile anthem that encompasses astute solos by tenor Sebastian Wehle and drummer Silvan Strauss. Leuschner solos ardently with flugel Johannes Stange and pianist Tom Berkmann on Thad Jones
' "Three and One," and is out front by himself on another theme by Jones, "Us." There are four vocals by Lydia Schiller (who has since teamed with bandmates Leuschner and pianist Sevi Krieger to form the trio Lucid
). "Waldemar" is sung in German, "Quen" in an inscrutable tongue, Van Morrison's "Moondance" and the Billy Preston ballad "You Are So Beautiful" in English. Leuschner appends a feral contra-bass clarinet solo on "Quen," while Jochner, Wehle and pianist Stephan Plecher dig in their spurs on the irrepressible "Waldemar" (on which Schiller seems most at ease).
There is one conspicuous departure from the straight and narrow, on Klingl's innovative "Modalitat," but even here the anomaly is short-lived (well under two minutes), as Jochner and flugel Andreas Schnell deliver plain-spoken solos while the ensemble settles into a more compliant groove. The ensemble is exemplary, the soloists enlivened from start to finish. In other words, an impressive performance by one of Germany's outstanding young jazz orchestras.
Eastern Illinois University Jazz EnsembleThree O'Clock DownbeatSelf Published
While perhaps not as well known as some of its contemporaries, the Eastern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble has earned its share of honors and awards, from DownBeat
magazine and at various intercollegiate jazz festivals. As Three O'Clock Downbeat,
recorded in 2008-09, clearly shows, the accolades have not been misdirected. Sam Fagaly's intrepid ensemble swings hard, plays superbly as a unit, and betrays no uneasiness when asked to come to grips with formidable charts by the likes of Bill Holman
, Thad Jones
, Kim Richmond
, Mark Taylor