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Although the RIAS Big Band showcases saxophonist Helmut Brandt more as composer/arranger than soloist (he wrote eight of the ten selections, co–authored another and arranged them all), Brandt makes each of his three solo appearances (two on baritone, the other on bass clarinet) memorable. And when one looks at his resumé, the reason becomes abundantly clear — Brandt spent 37 years as a member of the RIAS Tanzorchester, for whom he wrote more than 1,300 arrangements before stepping aside in 1996. While this 72–minute tribute album (recorded a year later) is barely able to scratch the surface of his enormous talent, it nevertheless reveals of musician of great depth and resourcefulness, one who knows how to make a big band smile and swagger. Brandt’s charts are for the most part laid–back and mellow (“Berlin Calling,” “Julia,” “Winter–Impression,” “Jojo’s Love,” “Painted Autumn”) with a few picturesque detours along the road (“L.E.O.,” the scurrying “Double–Bar Blues,” ethereal ”Prager–Impressionen” and polychromatic “Einleitung etc. für Jazzensemble”). For sheer unalloyed beauty, there’s Michael Brandt’s unaccompanied guitar intro and opulent brass choir that accentuate “Jojo’s Love.” The lone standard, “Come Rain or Come Shine,” ends the session on a brightly swinging note, enwrapping a marvelous solo by trombonist Dan Gottshall. Leader–trombonist Jiggs Whigham is featured on “Winter Impression,” alto saxophonist Klaus Marmulla on “Prager Impressionen.” Other soloists of note include Walter Gauchel (alto flute on “Berlin Calling,” tenor sax on “Einleitung” and “Double–Bar Blues”), trumpeter Christian Grabandt (“Berlin Calling,” “Double–Bar Blues,” “Painted Autumn”), trombonist John Marshall and pianist Wolfgang Köhler (“Double–Bar Blues”). Good as they are, none swings harder or more consistently than Brandt, whose bracing baritone solos (on “Julia” and “L.E.O”) and darkly textured bass clarinet (on “Painted Autumn”) append a convincing exclamation mark to a consistently tasteful and enchanting big–band session. Warmly recommended.
Track listing: Berlin Calling; Julia; Einleitung, Thema, Improvisation und Fugato für Jazzensemble; Winter–Impression; L.E.O.; Jojo’s Love; Prager Impressionen; Double–Bar Blues; Painted Autumn; Come Rain or Come Shine (72:20).
Jiggs Whigham, conductor, trombone; Helmut Brandt, composer, arranger, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Norbert Nagel, Klaus Marmulla, alto sax, clarinet; Walter Gauchel, tenor sax, flute, alto flute, clarinet; Gregoire Peters, tenor sax, flute, piccolo flute; Rolf von Nordenskj