This disc from ’97 offers thumbnail sketches of half a dozen young Jazz ensembles in Germany’s Hessen region, some more talented than others but all displaying an abundance of irrepressible drive and enthusiasm. The anthology includes four big bands and two smaller groups, the quintet Naima
and Musikschule Frankfurt am Main’s Last Exit Orchestra, which is in reality a saxophones–only octet. Three of the ensembles are clearly school–affiliated, while the other three (Naima, the Caravan Big Band, IKS Swing–Kids) may or may not be professional — it’s hard to tell from the German–language liner notes. The first two at least sound as though they could be, but the Swing–Kids appear to be a notch or so below that level. Caravan, however, is no more than a short stride ahead of Musikschule Frankfurt’s big band, which earns high marks on Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t” and ”’Round Midnight” and Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments.” Caravan opens its segment with — what else? — Juan Tizol’s “Caravan,” then follows up with Mercer Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” and a dazzling tour de force
for ensemble, “Sax Shooter,” composed and arranged by Lennie Niehaus. Naima (Christian Weidner, alto sax; Christian Meyers, trumpet and flugel; Markus Horn, piano; Hanns Höhn, bass; Simon Zimbardo, drums) is bold and cohesive on Höhn’s “Wind,” Horn’s “Where Is It” and Zimbardo’s “Felanitx,” while the Last Exit Orchestra treads an adventurous path on another of Monk’s classic works, “Blue Monk.” The disc’s opening act, the Big Band der Leibnizschule Wiesbaden, is more ragged and less versatile than the others, but the school may be the equivalent of our junior high schools; there’s no way to know. The band opens with Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite,” continues with an ill–advised vocal by Oli Black on Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia,” and closes with the Maynard Ferguson standby, “Chameleon.” The IKS Swing Kids end the review with Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island,” another humdrum vocal, this one by Eva Schmid on “Undecided,” and Earl Warren’s well–traveled “9:20 Special.” While the performance level varies greatly, it is nonetheless reassuring to know that young people in Germany — and indeed, in many European countries — are learning about Jazz and playing America’s classical music to the best of their ability.
Track listing: Yardbird Suite; Georgia; Chameleon; Blue Monk; Well, You Needn’t; Round Midnight; Stolen Moments; Wind; Where Is It; Felanitx; Caravan; Things Ain’t What They Used to Be; Sax Shooter; Cantaloupe Island; Undecided; 9:20 Special (65:20).