The UMO Jazz Orchestra is a Finnish band founded in 1975 and financed by the Finnish Broadcasting Company, the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, and the city of Helsinki. See what life is like abroad? National governments feel culture is so important and vital to the public's well-being that they create budgets that sponsor musicians in a range of concert ensembles that include jazz bands.
When musicians don't have to worry about income and touring, they put all of their waking efforts into playing and rehearsing and becoming better musicians. The result is a top-flight orchestra with superb players. That's certainly the case with the UMO, making it easy to understand why trumpeter and flugelhornist Randy Brecker jumped at the chance in March to fly over to Helsinki, Finland, and record an album with the Mats Holmquist and the UMO as their featured soloist.
Holmquist is a Swedish orchestra leader and educator who was invited to work with the UMO. He composed five of the nine tracks on Together (Mama) and arranged and conducted all of songs. The material is brassy busy, to say the least, but it's gloriously coherent and lyrical. Best of all, the challenging brass arrangements maximized Randy's chops. A soloist faced with such a skilled band and tight arrangements would have no choice but to step up and deliver. And deliver Randy does.
Together is one of Randy's finest albums to date. His solos are muscular and his tone is hair-raisingly beautiful. Holmquist's arrangements aren't swing but layers of brassy cinematic colors that tightly surround a melody. The songs are One Million Circumstances, Summer and Winter, Never Let Me Go, All My Things, My Stella, Always Young and Chick Corea's Windows, Crystal Silence and Humpty Dumpty.
The band features Randy (tp,flhrn); Holmquist (comp,arr,cond); Teemu Mattsson, Timo Paasonen, Mikko Pettinen, Tero Saarti and Janne Toivonen (tp,flhrn); Jakob Gudmunsson (tp on several tracks); Heikki Tuhkanene, Mikko Mustonen and Juho Viljanen (tb); Mikael Langbacka (b-tb); Ville Vannemaa (as,sop,cl); Mikko Makinen (as,sop,cl,fl); Teemu Salminen (ts,cl); Max Zenger (ts,fl); Pepa Paivinen (bar,fl); Seppo Kantonen (p), who is superb throughout; Mikel Ulfberg (g); Juho Kivivuori (b) and Markus Ketola (d).
Over the past two days, I've listened to Together 15 times. The album improved with each spin. The brass is so vivid and Randy's playing rides atop the horns with crisp distinction. If you've ever wondered why Randy is on so many of your albums, Together provides all the evidence you need. Randy's playing is what excellence sounds like when you're at the top of your game. If you love orchestral jazz, this one is a must own.