Far from being “dead,” as some have seen fit to pronounce them, big bands are alive and flourishing in countries all over the world — and in every country there are one or two names that set the standard for excellence. In Norway, that name is Sandvika. I’ll tell you how good these guys are. Add a couple of French horns and you’ve got the Boss Brass. On Live at Smuget,
recorded at an Oslo nightclub in May ’96, Sandvika includes superb treatments of one chart by the Bossman himself, Rob McConnell (Frank Rosolino’s “Blue Daniel”), and two others by Rob’s right–hand man, Rick Wilkins (“Greenhouse,” Ray Noble’s enchanting ballad “The Touch of Your Lips”). I don’t know about you, but whenever a large order of big–band Jazz is cooked and served, this is exactly how I want mine — well done. In fact, the last 13:20 of this concert is close to a big–band lover’s heaven, with a fabulous reading of Tom Kubis’ definitive arrangement of the standard “When You’re Smiling” followed without pause by Wilkins’ incendiary original, “Greenhouse.” One simply doesn’t want it to end. Completing the handsome program are Horace Silver’s “Nutville,” Bob Curnow’s marvelous arrangement of Pat Metheny’s “(It’s Just) Talk,” Australian prodigy James Morrison’s “Le Belleclaire Blues” and Charlie Parker’s bop classic, “Au Privave” (enlivened by the fiery trumpets of Kåre Nymark Jr. and Marius Haltli). Speaking of trumpeters, Sandvika even has its well–polished mirror image of the Boss Brass’ peerless flugelmeister, Guido Basso. The name is Eckhard Baur, and he is awesome on flugel (“The Touch of Your Lips,” “Talk”) or trumpet (“Greenhouse”). While tenors Arne Oftedahl and Biørn Barlo don’t quite measure up to Wilkins, Gene Amaro or Pat LaBarbera, neither do they lag too far behind any of them. Trombonists Birger Carlsen and Tor Pundsnes are outstanding on “Blue Daniel,” as is pianist Helge Lien on “Nutville” and “Talk.” Sandvika’s rhythm section is quick and powerful, with Håvard Caspersen’s rhythm guitar mirroring that of the Canadians’ Ed Bickert. Brass and reeds are as sharp as one can reasonably expect from a concert recording with no overdubs or editing (for an example of how sharp that is, listen to “The Touch of Your Lips”). This is a spectacular in–person performance by a world–class Jazz ensemble, and if it were about 20 minutes longer (51:23 is borderline acceptable for a CD) it would be near–perfect.
Track listing: Nutville; The Touch of Your Lips; (It’s Just) Talk; Le Belleclaire Blues; Blue Daniel; Au Privave; When You’re Smiling/Greenhouse (51:53).