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Dutch Concert Big Band: Plays Dutch Originals

Jack Bowers By

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If you think locating a needle in a haystack is strenuous, try finding something less than complimentary to say about Plays Dutch Originals, an absolutely marvelous recording by the superlative Dutch Concert Big Band. As far as can be determined, this is the only album set down (to date) by the band, which was formed in 2014 by drummer Kevin Van Den Elzen. If fortune smiles (as indeed it should), there may be many more to follow.

Until then, we have this remarkable inventory of nine original themes by eminent Dutch composers whose names may be unfamiliar but whose music is unfailingly ambitious and engaging. There's no parochialism here, simply straight-ahead big-band jazz that would reside comfortably in the library of almost any competent big band anywhere in the world. Among the composers, the one whose name may be most familiar to American listeners is the late Rob Pronk who was an arranger for many years with the renowned Metropole Orchestra. Trumpeter Jan Wessels may have some fans in the states (and elsewhere) too, along with his fellow trumpeter, the late Jerry van Rooyen, onetime leader of Cologne, Germany's WDR Big Band, among others.

Dutch Originals opens, however, with "The Mentor," a freewheeling swinger written by the lesser-known but no less talented Rob Madna, and continues with Henk Meutgeert's lyrical and charming "Tusks and Trunks" and Johan Plomp's well-grooved "Happy Birthday Cat!" Henk Huizinga's multi-hued "Dance of the Red-Nosed Dwarfs" and Frans Elsen's exuberant "Whirligig" also precede Pronk's even-tempered "Violet" and Wessels' high-spirited "Weasel." Rik Elings' graceful "Waltz for Habakuk" is next before van Rooyen's buoyant "Runners" ends the session on yet another high note.

Good as those writers are, it takes a superior ensemble to translate their notes into music that entices and inspires, which is exactly what the DCBB does from start to finish. As if that weren't enough, the band welcomes a trio of outstanding guest artists—trumpeter Frederik Mollet, alto saxophonist Maarten Hogenhuis and tenor Jasper Blom—whose liberal endowments raise an already impressive album to yet another level of excellence. The three solo (admirably) on "The Mentor," while Blom and Hogenhuis share honors again (with bassist Ties Laarakker) on "Tusks and Trunks." Mol and Blum solo on "Whirligig," Mol (flugelhorn) with pianist Koen Schalkwijk on "Waltz for Habakuk." The band's soloists are equally sharp and resourceful. They include trombonists Jos van den Heuvel ("Happy Birthday Cat!") and Maurits Woudenberg ("Violets"), alto Jasper van Damme and guitarist Durk Hijma ("Red-Nosed Dwarfs"), Schalkwijk, van Damme, Laarakker, trumpeter Jan-Willem te Kiefte and drummer van den Elzen ("The Weasel"), Schalkwijk, Hijma, van Damme, van den Elzen, tenor Caspar van Wijk and trumpeter Florian Sperzel ("The Runners"). Van den Elzen keeps impeccable time, and Schalkwijk, Hijma and Laarakker are with him every step of the way. The enterprise is ably overseen by conductors Erik van Lier and Michael Brecker.

Kudos to van den Elzen for having assembled such an exemplary ensemble, one whose splendid debut album places it firmly in the front ranks of big bands around the world.

Track Listing: The Mentor; Tusks and Trunks; Happy Birthday Cat!; Dance of the Red-Nosed Dwarfs; Whirligig; Violet; The Weasel; Waltz for Habakuk; The Runners.

Personnel: Erik van Lier, Michael Brecker: conductors; Florian Sperzel: trumpet; Ywo Lamanoca: trumpet; Felix Blum: trumpet; Coos Zwagerman: trumpet; Jan-Willem te Kiefte: trumpet; Jasper van Damme, Donald Simoen, Joao Driessen, Caspar van Wijk, Bruno van der Haegen: saxophones; Jos van den Heuvel: trombone; Peter Keijsers: trombone; Maurits Woudenberg: trombone; Bart van Gorp: trombone; Koen Schalkwijk: piano; Durk Hijma: guitar; Ties Laarakker: bass; Kevin van den Elzen: drums. Special guests – Maarten Hogenhuis: alto sax (1, 2); Jasper Blom: tenor sax (1, 2, 5); Rik Mol: trumpet (1, 5, 8).

Title: Plays Dutch Originals | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Self Produced

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