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This is one of a series of recent in–concert recordings in which Germany’s SWR Big Band has welcomed accomplished guest artists, in this instance the award–winning Danish composer / trumpeter Jens Winther. “Featuring the compositions of Jens Winther” would be a more accurate description, as Winther wrote and scored each of the half–dozen numbers on the album but plays trumpet on only one, the ballad “Child of Nature.” Winther’s compositions have won him many prizes in European competitions, and his album The Planets earned a Grammy award in 1996 for “Best Danish Jazz Recording of the Year.” As a writer, Winther likes to expand musical boundaries, which is fine; unfortunately, he also stretches time frames, and his compositions, worthy as they generally are, do tend to overstay their welcome (the briefest here is “Child of Nature,” which clocks in at 8:59, the longest “The Hierophant,” at 15:20). Interestingly, every selection runs longer than the interval listed on the album’s jacket, where the playing time is reckoned at 66:35 instead of the actual 71:19 noted by my CD player. There are two selections (“Lifetime,” “The Fourth Way”) that could reasonably be characterized as straight–ahead (with some ultra–modern touches), three others (“Science Fiction,” “The Hierophant,” “Alien Cult”) that lean more toward the avant–garde (but not “free–form,” as each is shaped by well–defined chord structures, melodies and rhythms). “Alien Cult,” whose playing time is 14:06, is a dirge–like tone–poem for ensemble with no improvised passages; elsewhere, once the theme has been stated there are extended solos by pianist Martin Schrack and guitarist Klaus–Peter Schöpfer (“Lifetime”), soprano saxophonist Peter Weniger (“The Fourth Way”), Schrack and Schöpfer again (“Science Fiction”), Schrack and tenor Andreas Maile (“The Hierophant”). And of course there’s Winther’s lustrous trumpet, softly illuminating “Child of Nature.” Would that it were enough to rescue the endeavor, but alas, such is not the case. In spite of Winther's enviable credentials, there's simply too much dead space here, too many moments when one's interest wanes, too much flash and not enough swing. The SWR band, by the way, is excellent, as are Schrack (who plays an electric keyboard on "Lifetime"), Weniger and Maile among the soloists. We can confidently recommend the album to those who favor contemplative, thought-inducing music, but not to those who'd rather hear a big band thunder and shout.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.