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Steve Spiegl is a thoughtful — and thought–provoking — big–band composer / arranger / leader with a modus operandi all his own. There aren’t many who can draw on the works of such diverse composers as J.S. Bach, Johannes Brahms, Alexander Scriabin and Sir Edward Elgar to fashion Jazz compositions that are not only accessible but also swing. Spiegl does that and more on his third album, Enigma, whose title is taken from Elgar’s Enigma Variation No. 9, a sumptuous big–band version of which wraps up this colorful and always stimulating session. The opening number, “Johannes” (which burns from the outset), is based on Brahms’ second ballade in D Major, Opus 10, for solo piano, “Sinfonia No. 3 in D Major” on Bach’s solo piano book of 15 inventions and 15 sinfonias, “Prelude” on Scriabin’s Opus 16, No. 4 in Eb Minor, also for solo piano. I’ve a hunch that each of these celebrated composers would be delighted to hear the marvelous way in which his music has been adapted to suit an innovative contemporary format. But that’s no more than a hunch, as I knew none of them personally. Be that as it may, there’s no denying that Spiegl frames superb renditions of their musical essays, as he does with his five original compositions — the graceful “Memories of Cynthia,” written for a close friend who was aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 261 when it went down a year ago off the California coast; the exhilarating big–band samba, “Carnival”; “Nothing Good Happens Fast,” a Basie–like groover whose melody line borrows heavily from “Just Squeeze Me”; “Berceuse (Lullaby) for Mallory,” written for Spiegl’s granddaughter; and “Epilogue,” commissioned for the New Trier (IL) High School Jazz Ensemble. Spiegl has recruited as sidemen some of the finest studio / big–band musicians Southern California has to offer, and they master his often demanding compositions without breaking a sweat. As a bonus, there are invigorating solos by alto Kim Richmond (“Johannes,” “Cynthia,” “Mallory,” “Epilogue”), trumpeter Jeff Bunnell and trombonist Charlie Morillas ("Carnival"), tenors Pete Christlieb ("Nothing Good," "Mallory") and Kurt McGettrick ("Nothing Good," "Sinfonia No. 3," flute on "Enigma"), Morillas again ("Sinfonia No. 3"), flugel Ron King ("Cynthia," "Nothing Good," "Epilogue"), guitarist Mack Dougherty ("Prelude," "Enigma") and pianist Mike Asher ("Enigma"). I've admired and enjoyed each of Spiegl's albums but none as ardently as this one, wherein every essential ingredient seems to have fallen perfectly into place. A winner in every respect.
Contact:Spiegl Music Publications, 2816 Shady Glen Lane, Orange, CA 92867; web site, www.spieglmusic.com
Track Listing: Johannes; Memories of Cynthia; Carnival; Nothing Good Happens Fast; Sinfonia No. 3 in D Major; Berceuse for Mallory; Prelude; Epilogue; Enigma Variation No. 9 (63:59).
Personnel: Steve Spiegl, conductor, composer, arranger; Larry Hall, George Graham, Jeff Bunnell, Jack Feierman, Ron King, trumpets; Charlie Loper, Charlie Morillas, Bruce Fowler, Harold Garrett, trombones; Kim Richmond, Mike Nelson, alto, soprano sax; Kurt McGettrick, Pete Christlieb (2