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Nagel Heyer Records

Elliott Simon By

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The 26th of August marked twelve years since the Nagel Heyers: Frank, Sabine and Hans, celebrated George Gershwin's birthday. They did so with a concert that featured improvisational interpretations of some of "Mr. Music's" most famous tunes. The keepsake recording of that event, with trombonist George Masso, clarinetist Ken Peplowski, tenor man Danny Moss and trumpeter Randy Sandke became Wonderful World of George Gershwin and Nagel Heyer was born. Now close to 200 releases later, Germany based Nagel Heyer is a powerful force as it keeps the classics fresh, redefines the mainstream and promotes a common ground for The Mainstream to Meet the New Music.

Continuing with several tribute concerts to cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, guitarist Eddie Condon and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, Nagel Heyer quickly developed a niche market for new live recordings of classic jazz pieces. Releases by Sandke's New York Allstars presented the music of Armstrong, Hampton and Basie in a free flowing format that allowed these archetypes room to breathe. Nagel Heyer's forum for musical expression that maintains respect for tradition while affording creativity soon attracted a cadre of younger players eager to become part of the mix, with interesting collaborations the result. Take for example pianist Martin Sasse, whose three releases for the label reveal an exciting bop pianist not afraid to test limits. NYC guitarist Peter Bernstein joins Sasse's trio for exciting post bop excursions on A Groovy Affair that includes the lovely Sasse ballad "Search for Love" and his stimulating "That Modal Thing No. 2". Sasse's newest release, Close Encounter , joins him with another NYC jazz stalwart, alto saxophonist Vincent Herring. Sasse's compositional abilities and his trio's fluidity break down any cultural barriers as Herring impresses on the boppish group effort "Blue Herring" and leads the proceedings "Over the Rainbow" on their melodic variant of the standard.

Altoist Donald Harrison has likewise used Nagel Heyer's ethos while imparting his unique contemporary "nouveau swing" vision. His first effort for the label, Real Life Stories , includes intriguing rhythmic reprises of Dizzy's "A Night in Tunisia", Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" and Paul Desmond's "Take Five". His aptly titled Heroes , goes one better by presenting Harrison's singular style in a trio consisting of real life jazz icons, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Cobham. While Cobham and Carter propel Harrison to scale new postmodern heights on the title cut and "Blues for the New Millennium", Harrison's duets with Carter are superb. Carter's reworking of the breaks in "My Funny Valentine" and the duo's spontaneous "Double Trouble", that takes the changes of "I Got Rhythm" in different directions, gives Harrison the space to show his first class chops.

The global reach of Nagel Heyer is not only evident in its unique collegial partnerships but also in their keen ears for worldwide talent. One such artist is the Oslo based British pianist Roy Powell. His Solace consists of nine self-composed pieces that blend into a gratifying gestalt. It is a work that is best described as a paean to beauty as his Norwegian band mates, bassist Terje Gewelt and drummer Jarle Vespestad, allow Powell to artfully manipulate the mood. Where Solace soothes with its understated elegance, Powell swings on bassist Frode Berg's label debut, Dig It! Berg is a versatile instrumentalist, whether swinging with acoustic passion on "41b"or electrically rocking on "Sir Nuke". Tenor saxophonist Petter Wettre holds sway on the ballad "Another Song" and kicks it into overdrive with drummer Andreas Bye on the title cut and Trane's "Giant Steps".

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