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After listening to more than a thousand big bands from all parts of the world over the past decade or so, one can generally ascertain after the first few measures have been played where a particular ensemble belongs in the hierarchy. The Summit Jazz Orchestra, a relatively young band from Regensburg, Germany, belongs precisely where its name indicates it should — at the summit. Don’t ask me how, but director and bass trombonist Christian Sommerer has managed in three short years to assemble a seventeen–piece orchestra that is the equal of any in big–band nirvana Germany and is even more proficient than most — including many who have been honing their craft for decades or more. Sommerer has wasted no time tossing his charges into deep waters, including on their debut recording two astonishingly slippery compositions by the redoubtable Bob Brookmeyer (“Nasty Dance,” “Ding Dong Ding”), Wayne Shorter’s swift–flowing yet unswerving “Black Nile,” trumpeter Bert Joris’ stunning “Nuées d’Orage,” tenor Marko Lackner’s off–center arrangement of Juan Tizol’s “Caravan,” Lackner’s dark–hued original, “Hibernation,” and trumpeter Sven Klammer’s skittish “Moods of a Cat,” from which the album derives its name and temperament. This is big–band Jazz for the new millennium, connected only tenuously to that created by its illustrious predecessors, the Basies, Ellingtons, Hermans and Kentons who ruled the earth when big bands were in their heyday. Even so, the SJO doesn’t forswear the basic building blocks on which rewarding Jazz endures — melody, harmony, tight interplay and, above all, swing. Among the SJO’s conspicuous assets — strong and spotless section work, a muscular and responsive rhythm section, and a number of world–class soloists who perk up every number (you’ll hear no unwieldy or ill–advised phrases from tenors Hugo Siegmeth or Martin Wyand, alto Ulrich Wangenheim, baritone Jürgen Zimmerman, trombonists Martin Ostermeier or Rainer Sell, trumpeters Klammer, Martin Auer or Axel Schlosser, guitarist Hanno Busch or pianist Michael Wollny). If you appreciate contemporary Jazz orchestras that are dedicated to carrying the music forward without abandoning the time-honored conventions on which it was established, Moods of a Cat should enhance your mood considerably.
Track listing: Black Nile; Moods of a Cat; Nasty Dance; Caravan; Hibernation; Nuées d’Orage; Ding Dong Ding (56:04).
Markus Lihocky, Ulrich Wangenheim, alto, soprano sax; Mark Wyand, Hugo Siegmeth, tenor sax; J