Are there any less–than–stellar big bands in Germany? Surely there must be — but the Big Band Convention isn’t one of them, an observation that is pressed home emphatically from the opening measures of Don Menza’s electrifying “Blues for Uncommon Kids,” recorded, as was everything else on this consistently impressive album, without a safety net at its regular watering–hole, the Rheinländer club in Cologne. Our thanks to baritone saxophonist Martin Schäfer (who’s a standout on his showcase, Bob Florence’s graceful “Bluephoria”) for sending along a copy. When I reached track three, “Laura,” I had to scan the booklet to see if it said “featuring Phil Woods” — but no, that’s only alto Stefan Pfeifer, sounding more like Woods than Phil probably does most days, even bending or slurring notes at the proper intervals. If “Laura” is temperate and reserved, Sammy Nestico’s gospel–tinged “Tall Cotton,” which follows, is splashy and sociable, with muted solos to match by trombonist Bert Conzen and an uncredited trumpeter. Florence also wrote “A Soundsketch,” which handsomely underscores Frank Jacobi’s persuasive tenor. Completing the well–designed program are Benny Golson’s captivating “Whisper Not,” Oliver Nelson’s lyrical “Stolen Moments,” Count Basie’s venerable “One O’Clock Jump,” and the engaging standards “I Thought About You” (arranged by Tom Kubis, featuring trombonist Günter Bollmann) and “I’ll Be Seeing You” (arranged by Mike Barone, featuring trumpeter Martin Reuthner). Besides the soloists already mentioned, there are incisive comments by trumpeter Frank Engel, guitarist Bruno Müller and drummer Jürgen Pfeifer on “Blues for Uncommon Kids,” Jacobi, Reuthner and tenor Christian Torkewitz on “Whisper Not,” flugel Volker Goetze and alto André Cimiotti on “Stolen Moments,” and Jacobi, Conzen, Reuthner, Müller, pianist Jürgen Grimm and trombonist Richard Hellenthal on “One O’Clock Jump.” The rhythm section (Grimm, Müller, Jürgen Pfeifer, bassist Jochen Schaal) is quick and powerful, and the brass and reeds leave scant room for complaint either. A frequently spectacular concert date, enhanced by high–quality sound and generous 70:20 playing time and easily recommended.
Contact: ELK Music GmbH, Aachener Strasse 1112A, D–50858, Köln, Germany. Phone +49 2234 941023; e–mail M.Launhardt@elkmusic.com. Web site, www.elkmusic.com. The Big Band Convention, Martin Schäfer, phone / fax +49 221 3685390; web site, www.bigbandconvention.de