Saxophonist Bob Mintzer
, a New Yorker who left home long ago to see the world, is a professor of Jazz Studies at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music and chief conductor of the world-class WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany, with whom he has recorded Soundscapes
, a luminous showcase for his singular talents as composer, arranger and soloist. As anyone who is familiar with Mintzerthrough big-band recordings, his quartet the Yellowjackets or other avenuesclearly understands, he will find a way to swing, whether composing, arranging, playing tenor or EWI (electronic wind instrument), which he employs on three of the album's ten tracks.
Mintzer also leans toward Latin, salsa and Afro-Cuban genres, a fondness exemplified by "The Conversation," "Montuno" and "Canyon Winds," whose irrepressible rhythms serve as secure launching pads for soloists Mintzer, tenor saxophonist Paul Heller
, pianist Billy Test
, trombonist Andy Hunter
, alto saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer
and trumpeter Andy Haderer
. Elsewhere, Mintzer shares blowing space with Test on "New Look" and "One Music," Heller on "A Reprieve" and "Whack," and alto saxophonist Johan Horlen
on "Stay Up." Horlen and trumpeter Ruud Breuls
are out front on the well-named "Herky Jerky," Strassmayer and Breuls on the straight-from-the-hip finale, "VM" (shorthand for Vince Mendoza
, a colleague at USC and chief conductor of the Metropole Orchestra in the Netherlands).
Mintzer, who has written more than five hundred big-band arrangements, knows how to make any ensemble shine while seducing the listeners' ears, and Soundscapes
is no exception to that rule, starting with a brace of superb new charts, "A Reprieve" and "The Conversation," each of which lays down a swinging groove as it sets the plate for the entrees to come. The fiery "Stay Up" quickens the momentum before the even-tempered "Montuno" lowers the temperature and "Whack" lets Mintzer explore fresh sonic and rhythmic roadways, using woodwinds and muted brass to fashion an off-center yet thoroughly charming melange he labels "atonal funk." The rhythmically robust "Canyon Winds" precedes the swift, angular "Herky Jerky" (based on the Gershwins' "I Got Rhythm"), balladic "New Look," high-octane "One Music" (written by Mintzer for the Yellowjackets and adapted to the larger orchestra) and closing "VM."
Perhaps the best way to describe Soundscapes
is to say that it represents Mintzer at his best, and that the WDR Big Band helps make his best sound even better. That should be enough to whet any jazz enthusiast's appetite.
A Reprieve; The Conversation; Stay Up; Montuno; Whack; Canyon Winds; Herky Jerky; New
Look; One Music; VM.