In his liner notes to this second album by The Orchestra, renowned composer / arranger / trombonist Bob Brookmeyer writes that the Copenhagen-based ensemble “performs one of the rare functions in music they play as if they love the music and each other, and they give life to the written page, the key element in expression.” Brookmeyer then admits to a certain bias, as six of its members (including conductor / composer / trumpeter Jesper Riis and composer / tenor saxophonist Lars Møller) are alumni of the cutting-edge Composers Workshop that he supervised for a number of years while living in Denmark.
Riis wrote three of the six selections on New Skies, Møller the others, and each of them solos twice Riis on Møller’s “New Skies” and his own “Shorter Voyage,” Møller on “New Skies” and another of his compositions, “Borderline.” Riis also wrote the Cuban-inspired “Uneac (Suite)” and laid-back bolero / cha cha “Tranquilo!,” Møller the rhythmically strapping “Christmas Quarrels.“ Guitarist Per Gade is a standout on “Quarrels” and “Uneac” (the latter with trumpeter Hendrik Jørgensen and pianist Henrik Gunde, playing synth). Trombonist Nikolai Bøgelund Pedersen, trumpeter Mårten Lundgren and clarinetist Peter Fuglsang are eloquent on “Tranquilo!,” which builds to an exciting climax atop the typically sturdy substructure provided by drummer Morten Lund, bassist Kasper Vadsholdt and percussionist Rune Harder Olesen. The rhythm section is prominent on “New Skies,” which launches the album on a swinging note with colorful ensemble passages preceding incisive commentary by Møller and Riis and responsive drumming by Lund.
The loping “Shorter Voyage” (solos by Riis and alto saxophonist Claus Waidtløw) is the trumpeter’s tribute to Wayne Shorter, the fusion-inspired “Borderline” (solos by Gunde, again on synth, and Møller) a deep bow from the saxophonist to Shorter’s groundbreaking group, Weather Report. As mentioned earlier, this is the second recording by The Orchestra, and it hangs together more securely than the first, Noxx. This is a highly competent ensemble that seems to be heading in the right direction, and like Brookmeyer, we eagerly “await the next [album].”