The good news is that tiny Liechtenstein (area about 160 square miles, population less than 40,000) has a big band to call its own. The even better news is that Big Band Liechtenstein is a fairly respectable ensemble, equal in its debut recording (Does It All)
to some of our best high school or even mid–level college groups and on its second to many of our more talented undergraduate ensembles. I don’t know if any or all of its members are professional musicians, but my guess would be no; more likely talented part–timers who share a love for big–band Jazz. These two discs were recorded five years apart (1993, ’98) and one can easily hear the over–all improvement on the more recent session, Alive,
at which time the BBL was in its 15th year. Alive
adds a vocalist, Sabine Fiegl, who is heard on six of its fourteen tracks, and is a touch more adventurous in terms of repertoire than Does It All,
which cleaves mainly to the basics — four original compositions by Sammy Nestico, two by Les Hooper, another by John Fedchock, Miles Davis’ “All Blues” and the Billie Holiday favorite, “God Bless the Child.” Another notable difference between the two albums lies in their playing times, 73:50 for Alive,
only 49:24 for Does It All,
leading one to surmise that the earlier date may have been a “getting one’s feet wet in the recording studio” endeavor. The second album indicates that a substantial amount of woodshedding must have taken place before BBL dived headlong into choppier waters. Section work is much tighter, soloists more assured even though wholly predictable. The main drawback on Alive
is Fiegl who, quite frankly, is a mediocre songstress whose drab personality is accompanied by an inability to stay precisely on key. (I hope I’m not being too hard on her.) Too bad, because the band, playing more complex (and often funkier) charts by Jeff Jarvis, Matt Harris, Peter Herbolzheimer and others, sounds notably more impressive, and the instrumental tracks are for the most part rewarding. Again, soloists aren’t out of the ordinary, but saxophonist R. Suhner (no first names are given) has some interesting things to say on soprano (“Emily,” “Mambo de Memo”) and alto (“The Healer,” Fedchock’s “On the Edge”). Even though neither of these discs is destined for inclusion in any big–band Hall of Fame, it’s comforting to know that even in a country as small as Liechtenstein (Rhode Island is almost 20 times larger) the irrepressible big–band legacy is alive and flourishing.
Track listing: Does It All — Freckle Face; Marguarite; Nightshades; Raisin’ the Roof; Switch in Time; A Warm Breeze; Cockatoo; God Bless the Child; All Blues (49:24). Alive — Polar Ice; I Wish You Love; Poultry Guest; Emily; What’s Going On; Chicken Polo; The End of a Love Affair; Escape Velocity; Angel Eyes; Mambo de Memo; The Healer; Birdland; On the Edge; Fever (73:50).