Tel Aviv, Israel-born saxophonist, composer and bandleader Eyal Vilner moved to New York City in 2007 to continue his studies at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. After touring Israel in the summer of 2008, he decided to establish a New York version of his all-star Israeli big band. Enlisting fourteen of the city's finest musicians, the ensemble boasts such players as veteran saxophonist Dan Block, trumpeter and director of the Julliard Jazz Orchestra Brandon Lee, Grammy Award-winning trombonist and director of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra John Mosca, and young jazz vocal sensation Yaala Ballin. Having performed at various venues throughout the Big Apple, Introducing The Eyal Vilner Big Band is the group's self-titled debut CD, containing a selection of originals as well as new arrangements of standards by Dizzy Gillespie, Irving Berlin, Bud Powell and others.
A brisk new arrangement of Gillespie's jazz classic "Woody'N You" opens the date in swinging fashion, featuring solos from Mosca and Vilner. The first Vilner original of the set is the brief "Your Eyes," a mid-tempo piece introducing pianist Yonatan Riklis and capturing the leader on both alto sax and clarinet. Blending the sounds of New York jazz with the New Orleans style, "Tonk" is a Ray Bryant tune spiced up with an arrangement penned at the request of pianist Junior Mance. Mance performed the piece with Vilner's band at the New School, where he also teaches.
Israeli songbird Yaala Ballin lends her lush vocals to three songs. Berlin's "Isn't This a Lovely Day" is a slow, cushy love ballad that also features light solos from trumpeter Lee and trombonist Mosca. She returns with a warm performance on Hoagy Carmichael's classic "The Nearness of You," and is a delight on the other Berlin standard, "Remember." Powell's familiar "Un Poco Loco" is one of the rousing orchestrations featuring the unusually-configured sections of five reeds and four brass, which work quite well here. The burly baritone sax voice of Jonah Parzen-Johnson introduces "New One," another swinging big band chart enjoying furious solos from tenorist Ned Goold and trumpeter Lee.
Not to be confused with Sammy Nestico's composition of the same name, Vilner's "Night Flight" flies a distinctly different approachlow and slow, under the radar, guided by the leader's gorgeous alto phrases and tender piano chords. This truly artistic effort ends with a beautiful, partly improvised piece appropriately entitled "Epilogue." Mosca, Goold and Vilner offer marvelous solo performances on the final selection.
Eyal Vilner's skills as a musician are unquestionable, but his talents as a composer, arranger and bandleader are what's truly on display on Introducing The Eyal Vilner Big Band, a remarkable debut recording from a group poised to take their place among the major big bands of the East. Vilner offers clever charts, excellent musicianship and an exciting new sound in the finest tradition of contemporary big band music.
Woody'N You; Your Eyes; Tonk; Isn't This a Lovely Day; Un Poco Loco; The Nearness of You; New One; Night Flight; Remember; Epilogue.
Eyal Vilner: alto saxophone, clarinet; Andrew Gould: alto saxophone, clarinet; Pablo Castano: alto saxophone, flute; Ned Goold: tenor saxophone; Dan Block: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Jonah Parzen-Johnson: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Cameron Johnson: trumpet; Brandon Lee: trumpet, flugelhorn; John Mosca: trombone; Kevin Cerovich: trombone; Yonatan Rosen: drums; Yonatan Riklis: piano; Montana Agte-Studier: flute (4); Yaala Ballin: vocals (4, 6, 9).
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