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Germany’s SWR Big Band, with nearly half a century of experience under its belt, is one tight, punchy and self–confident ensemble. In this concert performance from September ’99, featuring the veteran tenor saxophonist Max Greger, the SWR belts out a series of evergreens from the Swing Era and Tin Pan Alley with a disarming blend of perception and panache. Even while traversing such familiar ground, the band does its best to enliven the landscape by throwing everything it has into each and every number. The concert opens with Sy Oliver’s “Opus One” and includes half a dozen songs associated with Duke Ellington, three Glenn Miller favorites, Tommy Dorsey’s theme, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” two songs by the incomparable George Gershwin (“The Man I Love,” “Strike Up the Band”), Louis Prima’s tub–thumping “Sing, Sing, Sing,” Louis Armstrong’s saucy “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” and Jimmy Forrest’s abrasive “Night Train.” Ellington is represented by “Satin Doll,” “Creole Love Call,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “In a Sentimental Mood,” Juan Tizol’s “Caravan” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train,” Miller by “American Patrol,” “Moonlight Serenade” and, of course, “In the Mood.” You’re right; there’s nothing here you haven’t heard many times, and this concert is beamed toward those diehard fans of big–band swing who are beguiled no matter how many times they’ve heard that song before. Special guest Greger solos only three times, on “Sentimental Mood,” “Sophisticated Lady” and “Night Train,” and is eclipsed by clarinetist Bernd Rabe, longtime lead alto with SWR and its predecessor, the excellent Erwin Lehn Orchestra, who showers sparks on “The Man I Love” and is superb whenever else he appears. Greger has his best moments in a duo setting with pianist Klaus Wagenleiter on “Sophisticated Lady,” which precedes the dynamic finale, “Sing, Sing, Sing,” on which drummer Jörg Gebhardt’s tom–toms are the dominant voice, as they are on “Caravan,” while Rabe proves an able dep for Benny Goodman. Other soloists of note include trumpeters Thomas Vogel ("'A' Train"), Karl Farrent ("Struttin' with Some Barbecue") and Claus Reichstaller ("American Patrol," "In the Mood"); trombonist Marc Godfroid ("Getting Sentimental") and tenors Andreas Maile ("Strike Up the Band") and Peter Weniger ("In the Mood"). Those who harbor fond memories of the Swing Era should find these up-to-date versions of swing masterworks quite rewarding.
Personnel: Bernd Rabe, Klaus Graf, alto sax; Peter Weniger, Andreas Maile, tenor sax; Rainer Heute, baritone sax; Thomas Vogel, Claus Reichstaller, Karl Farrent, Rudolf Reindl, trumpet; Ernst Hutter, Marc Godfroid, Ian Cumming, Georg Maus, trombone; Klaus Wagenleiter, piano; Klaus Peter Sch