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Rodger Fox's Wellington Jazz Orchestra / Sammy Nestico-SWR Big Band / Gran Canaria Big Band

Jack Bowers By

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Rodger Fox's Wellington Jazz Orchestra

Journey Home

Tbone Records

2011

Alan Broadbent and Rodger Fox's Wellington Jazz Orchestra: a rendezvous that took many years to bring about and is clearly long overdue—but as the saying goes, better late than never (in this case, much better!). Broadbent, a Grammy-winning composer / arranger / pianist who was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and has earned fame and fortune in the U.S. playing with and writing for such luminaries as Woody Herman, Diane Schuur, Natalie Cole, Shirley Horn, Bud Shank, Chet Baker, Irene Kral, Charlie Haden, Warne Marsh, Sheila Jordan, Scott Hamilton and many others, composed and arranged every number on Journey Home (including several that were written for one of the later Herman Herds, in which Broadbent was the pianist from 1969-72). Broadbent didn't actually return to New Zealand to record the album; his unerring setups on five selections and tasteful solos on four were appended in a Burbank, California, studio as he listened to the orchestra on his headphones, but one would never presume that, as the finished product is as tight and seamless as Lance Philip's trusty snare drum.

As if Broadbent's formidable presence weren't enough, Fox has enhanced the brass section by importing one of the Los Angeles area's premier lead trumpeters, Charley Davis, and another of L.A.'s finest, Jon Papenbrook, to round out a superior unit whose other members are Matt Hitti, Dave Lisik and Chris Selley. Trombonist Fox, the orchestra's music director, is featured twice, on "Love in Silent Amber" and "Sugar Loaf Mountain," both of which were written while Broadbent was in Herman's employ, as were "Woody 'n' Me" and the buoyant "Bebop and Roses." Broadbent solos with tenor saxophonist Colin Hemmingsen on "Woody," with Hemmingsen and trumpeter Lisik on "Roses." The eloquent Hemmingsen has center stage to himself on "The Long White Cloud" (recorded earlier on Fox's album Xtra Juicy), solos with Broadbent and flugel Hitti on "Journey Home" and with Lisik (flugel), Philip and the ensemble's "other" pianist, Anita Schwabe, on the upbeat finale, "Sonny's Step." Nick Granville's mellow guitar introduces the waggish "Far In" (preceding virile statements by Fox, tenor Mike Isaacs, alto Hayden Hockly and baritone Andre Paris) and he shines with Lisik, Philip and alto Alex Nyman on Broadbent's cheerful, smooth-riding "Chris Craft." Nyman is the lone soloist on the ballad "Don't Ask Why (For Irene)."

Journey Home was recorded at the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington, where Fox directs the Jazz Studies program, and sound and balance are exemplary, as is the orchestra's inspired performance. Even without Broadbent, Davis or Papenbrook, this would be a remarkable session; with them, it rises to the level of indispensable.

Sammy Nestico / SWR Big Band

Fun Time and More Live

Haenssler Classic

2011

There's no question that veteran composer / arranger Sammy Nestico has found new life and kindred souls in Stuttgart, Germany, and his fourth album with that city's superlative SWR Big Band is arguably the best of a bumper crop that began in 2004, when Nestico was a young man of eighty, with No Time Like the Present. Since then Nestico and the SWR ensemble have recorded Basie-Cally Sammy, Fun Time and now Fun Time and More Live, taped for an enthusiastic audience at what looks to be the Carl-Zeiss-Sal, in February 2010.

As usual, Nestico composed most of the tunes and arranged them all; as usual, a number of them were written for and performed by the Count Basie Orchestra, for whom Nestico served as an arranger from 1967-84; and as usual, the SWR Big Band takes to them like ducks to water. As Nestico shouts after a dynamic reading of Johnny Mandel's "Not Really the Blues," he simply "fell in love with these guys!" And what's not to love? When it comes to contemporary big bands, SWR, which has been in business for more than six decades, is about as proficient as they come. No structural niceties are overlooked, while soloists are consistently resourceful and engaging.

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