In jazz, there's rarely pressure to make the next album bigger than the last. There can often, however, be a self-imposed drive to make it different. Sydney, Australia's Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestrathe flagship of its Jazzgroove Association, a musicians' collective that's been cultivating a strong jazz scene there for a decadereleased one of 2006's best big band records, The Mothership Plays the Music of Mike Nock (Jazzgroove Records). On Dream Wheel, the Mothership collaborates with a younger and, consequently, less-proven but still impressive pianist/composer, Germany-based Florian Ross. While Plays the Music of Mike Nock had its own energy, the live recording of Dream Wheel represents the kind of muscle that can only be found on the club or concert stage
Happily, many of the players that made Plays the Music of Mike Nock such a success are backnotably altoist/co-producer David Theak, whose own Theak-Tet released the engaging Old School (Birdland, 2005). That album also featured another Mothership mainstay, guitarist James Muller, whose Kaboom (Birdland, 2006) would have garnered considerably more attention, had it been released Stateside.
Ross' growing discography has already positioned him as a pianist/composer/arranger of no insignificant talent, and the seven charts on Dream Wheel bristle with a vitality that's as much about the modern mainstream arrangements as they are this seventeen-piece band's consistently fine playing. Ross knows his tradition, referencing standard staples on the episodic "Autumn Things (but taking it to places of power that Joseph Kosma could never have envisaged for "Autumn Leaves ) and the more definitively swinging "Campaign or Come Swine, which takes equal liberties with Harold Arlen's "Come Rain or Come Shine.
Ross also mines the more contemporary music of Kenny Wheeler's waltzing "Heyoke for the title track, but turns it into a large ensemble piece, rich in texture and filled with improvisational opportunities for Theak, Muller and trumpeter Matt Jodrel. Ross gets his own solo opportunities on "Autumn Things and the twisting and turning "Mean MF, with bassist Brendan Clarke and drummer Evan Mannell providing the same unshakable support they do throughout.
The closing "Bista is the best blend of Ross' compelling writing and visceral arranging with the strength of this orchestra. The opening simmers, turning to a boil with tenor saxophonist Roger Mannis, whose solo builds the tension to near fever-pitch, only to be matched and raised by Muller, who delivers one of his best solos on record. Lithe, effortlessly leaping across huge intervals, and demonstrating a focused sense of construction, Muller's ante is raised, yet again, by Mannell's groove-heavy solo.
It's the kind of closer that, no doubt, would have demanded an encore from the enthusiastic crowd. For those who have to experience the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra from a distance, the only consolation is that there's sure to be more to come from this outstanding ensemble.
Teen Adventure; Mean MF; Dream Wheel; Autumn Things; Constance
Florian Ross: piano, electric piano, solos (2, 4); David Theak: alto saxophone lead, solos (1, 3); Murray Jackson: alto saxophone; James Muller: guitar, solos (3, 7); Roger Manins: tenor saxophone, solos (6, 7); Brendan Clarke: contrabass; Scott Langley: tenor saxophone; Evan Mannell: drums, solo (7); Nick Bowd: baritone saxophone, solo (1); Darryl Carthew: trumpet lead; Jeremy Barthwick: trombone lead, solo (2); Simon Ferenci: trumpet, solo (1); Lucian McGuiness: trombone, solo (6); Matt Jodrell: trumpet, solo (5); Danny Charmichael: trombone, solo (5); Tim Crow: trumpet; Colin Burrows: bass trombone.
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