As if a new CD by the superlative Swiss Jazz Orchestra weren't enough to start New Year 2016 on a high note, Pools presses home the considerable talents of the orchestra's special guests, vibraphonist Mike Mainieri and drummer Peter Erskine, in a dynamic performance taped live at the Hotel Innere Enge on April 10-11, 2015, as part of Jazzfestival Bern. Besides playing with his usual aplomb, Mainieri wrote five of the session's eight numbers and solos on every one save Wayne Shorter's broad-shouldered "Elegant People." Erskine, for his part, shows why his reputation as a world-class drummer has remained unimpaired since he was a teen-ager occupying the drum chair in the legendary Stan Kenton Orchestra (and later as a member of Shorter / Joe Zawinul's Weather Report and Mainieri's forward-leaning ensemble, Steps Ahead).
Several of these songs will be familiar to fans of those last two groups, most notably "Elegant People," pianist Don Grolnick's lambent "Pools" and Mainieri's ardent "Flying Colours" and saucy "Bullet Train." Completing the program are Jaco Pastorius' playful "Liberty City" and three more engaging compositions by Mainieri: "Las Dos Lorettas," "Dee Minor" and "Vertigo." The orchestra's excellent pianist, Philip Henzi, arranged "Pools" and "Liberty City," while the other charts were framed by Arthur White ("Flying Colours," "Vertigo"), Alan Baylock ("Las Dos Lorettas," "Dee Minor"), Vince Mendoza ("Bullet Train") and Pastorius ("Elegant People"). The SJO masters each one with ease, never once evincing the least suggestion of solicitude or ambivalence.
With eight songs spread over seventy-five minutes there is ample room for inspired blowing, not only by Mainieri, whose solos are models of assurance and elegance, and Erskine but by several members of the SJO, none of whom proves less than proficient. Tenor Jurg Bucher and bassist Antonio Schiavano earn the plaudits on "Pools," trumpeter Lukas Thoni on "Flying Colours," trombonists Stefan Schlegel on "Dorettas" and Lukas Wyss on "Dee Minor," trumpeter Thomas Kuchel and soprano Adrian Pflugshaupt on "Elegant People," flugel Johannes Walter on "Vertigo," Henzi, tenor Till Grunewald and percussionist Roland Wager on "Bullet Train." Erskine is unwavering, Mainieri unflappable, the SJO undaunted. A memorable concert that is worthy of a standing ovation.
Pools; Flying Colours; Liberty City; Las Dos Lorettas; Dee Minor; Elegant People; Vertigo; Bullet Train.
Dave Blaser: trumpet, flugelhorn; Johannes Walter: trumpet, flugelhorn; Lukas Thoni: trumpet, flugelhorn; Thomas Knuchel: trumpet, flugelhorn; Adrian Pflugshaupt: alto, soprano sax, flute, piccolo; Reto Suhner: alto, soprano sax, flute, clarinet; Till Grunewald: tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Jorg Bucher: tenor sax, clarinet; Marc Schodler: baritone sax, clarinet; Rene Mosele: trombone; Stefan Schlegel: trombone; Lukas Wyss: trombone; Reto Zumstein: bass trombone; Philip Henzi: piano, synth; Mike Mainieri: vibraphone; Toni Schiavano: electric bass; Roland Wager: percussion; Peter Erskine: drums.