So how many ways are there to say that the music on the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band’s album, Live at Jazz Fest Berlin, is on the whole pleasant but doesn’t really move me? Only one, I suppose — the music on the GGCJB’s album is on the whole pleasant but doesn’t really move me. Neither can I find much to censure. The orchestra is first–class, the arrangements (all except Rolf Liebermann’s five–part “Symphony for Jazz Ensemble” inscribed by Gruntz) expertly crafted. So what’s the problem? Outwardly, at least, there is none; but even the most wonderful band and arrangements are of no use if one one’s spirit is unreceptive and he or she is unable to respond emotionally to the music. Although I can hear what Gruntz and his colleagues are trying to accomplish, I simply can’t connect with it on any meaningful level. This is especially true of Liebermann’s 27–minute–long “Symphony,” which is well–written and agreeable enough in its way but flows placidly past my ears without producing even a ripple of the kind of excitement I feel when listening to Basie, Herman, Kenton or other straight–ahead big bands. Gruntz and the CJB obviously have a game plan, and it seems tailored to suit the audience at Jazz Fest Berlin, which salutes each number with warmth and enthusiasm. Besides “Symphony” they include saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s saucy “2nd Line Sally,” Wayne Shorter’s stealthy “Footprints,” Burhan Öçal’s stately “Kirklarell” and Gruntz’s prancing composition, “Bunauara,” which sounds about like it reads. Mind you, this précis is not a reproval, only an opinion, and an imperfect one at that. Or, to put it in the vernacular, different strokes for different folks. Gruntz, as we mentioned, oversees a splendid ensemble in whose ranks are a number of stalwart soloists (with especially high marks for trumpeter Stamm, trombonists Gayton and Bonilla, drummer Riley and the entire reed section). The writing is exemplary, sound quality satisfactory, playing time generous. I wish I were more enamored by the substance; on t
Track listing: Symphony for Jazz Ensemble; 2nd Line Sally; Footprints; Bunauara; Kirklareli (71:00).
George Gruntz, leader, piano; Marvin Stamm, Alexander Sipiagin, Scott Wendholt, Matthieu Michel, trumpet, flugelhorn; Dave Bargeron, trombone, euphonium; Luis Bonilla, Clark Gayton, trombone; Earl McIntyre, bass trombone; Chris Hunter, alto, soprano sax, flute; Sal Giorgianni, alto, tenor sax, flute; Larry Schneider, tenor, soprano sax, flute; Donny McCaslin, tenor sax, flute; Steffen Schorn, baritone, bass sax, bass clarinet; Mike Richmond, bass; John Riley, drums.