The Netherlands is home to at least two world-class big bands, the Dutch Jazz Orchestra and the perhaps lesser-known but no less resourceful and accomplished Millennium Jazz Orchestra, which proves again on its latest album, Oatts Notes, that superlative jazz ensembles are by no means confined to any specific area but continue to flourish all over the world. The "Oatts refers, of course, to guest artist Dick Oatts, long a mainstay of New York City's Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, who sculpts electrifying solos on four of the album's eight selections (three on alto sax, one on soprano).
Conductor Joan Reinders wrote all the arrangements, and the closest I can come to pigeonholing them is to invoke the hallowed name of Bill Holman, as Reinders' angular frame of reference embodies more than a touch of Holman's often eccentric yet invariably rewarding modus operandi, a resemblance that emerges most transparently on the perky opener, "We've Got Rhythm (thanks, George and Ira) and strapping finale, Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are. As with Holman, when all is said and done, swing is the adhesive that binds the package together. Reinders sees to that, as does his blue-chip rhythm section, securely anchored by drummer Niek van Wiggen.
Oatts bows in (on alto) on Charlie Haden's ethereal ballad "First Song, stays there for his own snappy compositions "On Dominant and "Public Access, then moves to soprano on Reinders' pensive, minor-key "Oatts Notes. He's resplendent in every framework, and those who've heard Oatts before don't need me to underscore the obvious. Even so, Oatts isn't the whole enchilada, as the MJO has a number of persuasive soloists including pianist Orjan Graafmans ("Rhythm, Reinders' "Epithelium ), lead trombonist Jeroen Rol ("Rhythm, "All the Things ), trumpeter Jan Wessels ("Rhythm, "Public Access ), tenor Gerlo Hesselink ("Epithelium ), baritone Job Helmers (eloquent on Reinders' enchanting arrangement of Kern's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes ) and bassist Bart Tarenskeen ("All the Things ). Van Wiggen shakes the rafters on "Dominant (and elsewhere).
Kudos to Reinders and the MJO who have produced a rewarding album from start to finish, splendidly performed and wonderfully enhanced by the presence of one of America's most talented saxophonists, the consistently impressive Dick Oatts. First-rate sound and generous playing time at no extra charge.
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