Here's a productive cross-border alliance if ever there was one: American trumpeter Randy Brecker, Swedish composer / arranger Mats Holmquist and Finland's superb UMO Jazz Orchestra, Together for the first time in a recording studio. The versatile Brecker is the featured soloist throughout, while Holmquist wrote five of the album's engaging songs and arranged all of them. As for the orchestra, it is letter-perfect from end to end, performing Holmquist's often strenuous charts with singular proficiency and assurance.
Brecker, of course, needs no introduction to jazz enthusiasts in the States, as he has been a leading light on the scene for more than half a century, starting with the jazz / rock group Blood, Sweat & Tears and often in the company of his late brother, the saxophonist Michael Brecker. Holmquist, less well known but every inch as respected abroad as he is in Europe, proves again (as if proof were needed) that he is an exceptionally gifted writer and arranger, especially on his interpretations of a brace of standards from the great American songbook: "All My Things" (All the Things You Are) and "My Stella" (Stella by Starlight). Holmquist's other originals ("One Million Circumstances," "Summer and Winter," "Always Young") are no less provocative and charming. Aside from his own compositions, Holmquist centers his erudition on three by Chick Corea ("Windows," "Crystal Silence," "Humpty Dumpty") and another standard, the plaintive ballad "Never Let Me Go."
Brecker, who seemingly hasn't lost a step to Father Time, plays sharp and agile trumpet most of the way, burnished flugelhorn on "Never Let Me Go," "Crystal Silence" and "Always Young." UMO boasts several admirable soloists of its own including pianist Seppo Kantonen, guitarist Mikel Ulfberg, trumpeter Mikko Pettinen, soprano saxophonist Ville Vannemaa and tenor Max Zenger. Kantonen is especially persuasive on "One Million Circumstances," "Never Let Me Go," "Windows" and "Crystal Silence," while Ulfberg shines on the fast-moving "Humpty Dumpty." Holmquist, for his part, makes sure the music is rich and challenging, starting with the strong and picturesque "One Million Circumstances" and continuing through the seductive closing anthem, "Always Young." Whatever the mood or tempo, Holmquist always has something suitable and interesting to impart.
Together is the sort of inclusive musical caucus that happens all too seldomwhich is all the more reason to endorse and salute its refreshing outcome. Brecker, Holmquist and the UMO form, as it turns out, an almost unbeatable team.
One Million Circumstances; Summer and Winter; Never Let Me Go; Windows; All My Things; Crystal Silence; My Stella; Humpty Dumpty; Always Young.
Mats Holmquist: composer, arranger, conductor; Randy Brecker: trumpet, flugelhorn. UMO Jazz Orchestra – Teemu Mattsson: trumpet, flugelhorn; Timo Paasonen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Mikko Pettinen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tero Saarti: trumpet, flugelhorn; Janne Toivonen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jakob Gudmundsson: trumpet (1, 3-5, 8); Ville Vannemaa: alto, soprano sax, clarinet; Mikko Makinen: alto, soprano sax, clarinet, flute; Teemu Salminen: tenor sax, clarinet; Max Zenger: tenor sax, flute; Pepa Paivinen: baritone sax, flute; Heikki Tuhkanene: trombone; Mikko Mustonen: trombone; Juho Viljanen: trombone; Mikael Langbacka: bass trombone; Mikel Ulfberg: guitar; Seppo Kantonen: piano; Juho Kivivuori: bass; Markus Ketola: drums.