Even though the notion may defy logic, Denmark, a country of less than six million extending from northern Europe’s Jutland peninsula, boasts no fewer than three world-class big bands—the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra, pianist/composer Jan Kaspersen’s Special Occasion Band, and this one, the terrific Klüvers Big Band from Aarhus. Klüvers, which takes its name from leader and artistic director Jens Klüver, devotes its latest album to the music of one of America’s outstanding big-band composer/arrangers, Matt Harris, a splendid way in which to kick-start its “Contemporary Arrangers” series.
So many ensembles at home and abroad have performed Harris’s inventive charts that it’s hard to believe, as he writes in the liner notes, that he has “never recorded [his] original compositions and arrangements for big band.” He couldn’t have chosen a better vehicle to redress that oversight, as Klüvers is on a par with almost any big band one cares to name, amplifying remarkable power and precision with uncommon awareness and a number of resourceful soloists. Harris’s music has always sounded good but never better than this.
Harris wrote nine of the album’s twelve selections and arranged all of them (the others are Ray Noble’s “Cherokee,“ George Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy” and Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays”). Not content to rest on those laurels, Harris plays piano on eight numbers and solos on four (“Top Daddy,” “Beijo Inocente,” “Los Brujos,” “Madelyn’s Song”). His presence is welcome but the KBB has a pretty good pianist of its own in Mads Baerentzen, as one can appreciate from his lone solo on “The Prez.” Harris eases into the program with the pensive “Reflections,” a showcase for the superb tenor saxophonist Michael Bladt, as are the warp-speed “Cherokee” and sensuous “Looking Glass.“
Besides Harris, flugel Jesper Riis and guitarist Søren Bo Addemos solo on the funky “Top Daddy,” trumpeter Jakob Buchanan on the sunny bossa “Beijo Inocente,” trombonist Ole Peter Riis and percussionist Steen Råhauge on the hip-shaking mambo “Los Brujos.” Jesper Riis (trumpet) is showcased on “I Loves You Porgy,” trombonist Nikolai Bøgelund Pedersen on “Yesterdays.” Addemos reappears with trumpeter Henrik Hou Jørgensen on “Inside Out,” with alto Jens Christian “Chappe” Jensen on another Latin blockbuster, “El Gatote.” Bladt, Baerentzen, Pedersen and Buchanan (flugel) share solo honors on “The Prez,” whose jam session vibe is underlined by the final fade. Drummer Karsten Bagge, especially forceful on “Cherokee,” is an unflagging workhorse on every number, as is bassist Jefsen. Whenever the ensemble needs extra guidance and muscle, they are there to provide it.
The KBB and Harris are an impressive team, and I look forward to impending installments in the Contemporary Arrangers series, which we are told will canvass charts by Fred Sturm, Mike Abene, Dennis Mackrel and Klüvers’ own Jesper Riis, among others. Until then, this preliminary entrée should ease anyone’s hunger.