Although Belgium doesn’t leap readily to mind when the conversation turns to hotbeds of Jazz, that country has produced a handful of outstanding Jazz musicians — Toots Thielemans, Bobby Jaspar and a few others — and boasts at least one world–class big band, the Brussels Jazz Orchestra. On Live,
recorded in May ’97, the BJO performs three compositions by one of Belgium’s leading composer/arranger/players, trumpeter Bert Joris, one by saxophonist Erwin Vann and another by the orchestra’s leader/alto saxophonist, Frank Vaganée. Two of the selections are actually three–movement works — Vann’s “Hortensia,” aptly described in the liner notes as an “odyssey for big band with rhythmical mine fields,” and the “Louis Armstrong Suite,” written by Joris as part of a project called You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet,
which provides musical backgrounds for movies of the 1920s and ’30s. Joris also composed “Mr. Dodo,” which was recorded previously by the Swiss Jazz School big band, and “Nuées d’Orage,” inspired by guitarist Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages,” while Vaganée contributed “Manna Hatta,” written for his final exam at a workshop in Cologne, Germany. Vaganée, as it turns out, is also one of the orchestra’s most persuasive soloists, as he shows on “Nuées d’Orage,” “Manna Hatta” and “Hortensia,” Part 2. There are a number of others including trumpeters Blondiau, Paré and Latucca; tenors Defoort and Van Herck, trombonists Godfroid and Mertens, alto/clarinetist Alleman, baritone Vanderwerf and pianist Erbstösser. After opening with Joris’ eloquent “Nuées,” the BJO performs the suites back–to–back (accounting for about 44 of the disc’s generous 72–minutes–plus playing time), which could test one’s endurance if the second of them, “Louis Armstrong,” weren’t so superbly written and played. Its third movement, “I’ve Found a New Baby,” is a highlight with its small–group Dixie–style nucleus welded securely to big–band swinging of the highest order (and drummer Pallemaerts kicking some old–fashioned butt). “Manna Hatta,” which begins darkly, soon gives way to further animated blowing before Vaganée’s alto slows the tempo, then re–establishes momentum for a driving, all–out run to the finish line that leads to Erbstösser’s hushed single–note epilogue. The orchestra closes the concert with “Mr. Dodo,” another dynamic example of big–band muscle with enterprising solos by Van Herck and Blondiau. A memorable live date by one of Europe’s most prominent Jazz orchestras, and easily recommended.
Track listing: Nuées d’Orage; Hortensia (Parts 1, 2 and 3); Louis Armstrong Suite — Struttin’ with Some Barbecue, St. James Infirmary, I’ve Found a New Baby; Manna Hatta; Mr. Dodo (72:11).