The Highlight Jazz Orchestra’s name should be plural instead of singular, as Tros Sesjon, the Netherlands–based big band’s debut recording from March ’98, consists of one dazzling highlight after another. It helps, of course, to stack the deck with such awesomely talented touring artists as trombonist Bart van Lier and saxophonist Leo Janssen, but the ensemble itself is wide–awake and scrappy throughout, enabling its guests to unbend and feel right at home beneath a wide canopy of complementary swinging. Good thing, too, as the visiting headliners get right down to business with van Lier and/or Janssen heard on ten of an even dozen selections. The trombonist is featured on “Meet the Master,” “All the Things You Are” and the ballad “Spring Is a Little Late,” the saxophonist on “Just Like That,” “Angel Eyes,” “I Hear a Rhapsody” and “Bouncin’ with Bud,” while both men are given room to maneuver on “Silhouette,” “Just Friends” and “Cherokee.” Janssen plays soprano on “Angel Eyes,” tenor elsewhere. The band opens with Peter Herbolzheimer’s deceptively easygoing composition, “Just Like That,” which builds in intensity much like the wonderful Tom Kubis arrangement of “When You’re Smiling” (a favorite of big bands all over the world). Janssen’s extended solo is a gas, and he and van Lier show on the next track, “Just Friends,” that it was no accident, as both are superb in their starring roles. On my demo copy (the disc may not yet be available commercially), “track 1” actually encompasses three numbers, the last of which is probably van Lier’s aptly named showcase, “Meet the Master.” Drummer Niek van Wiggen leads Janssen’s tenor into a romping up-tempo version of “Rhapsody,” after which the band’s splendid guitarist, Vincent Korning, bares his chops on the late Emily Remler’s “Firefly” and pianist Cees Slinger does the same on “The Girl Next Door.” Janssen and van Lier are featured on Herbolzheimer’s shapely “Silhouette,” van Lier on an up-tempo reading of “All the Things You Are” and “Spring,” Janssen again on Bud Powell’s “Bouncin’ with Bud” and Matt Dennis’ “Angel Eyes” (whose superb charts are by Frans Elsen). The finale, deftly arranged by Herbolzheimer, has van Lier and Janssen trading well–aimed salvos on Ray Noble’s Jazz evergreen, “Cherokee.” This is exemplary big–band Jazz with more than enough “highlights” to please even the most demanding listener.
Track listing: Just Like That; Just Friends; Meet the Master; I Hear a Rhapsody; Firefly; The Girl Next Door; Silhouette; All the Things You Are; Bouncin’ with Bud; Angel Eyes; Cherokee (74:23).
Adri van Velsen, conductor; Jelle Schouten, Jan van der Scheer, Ray Bruinsma, Idius Felix, Victor Borkent, Ellister van der Moken, trumpets; Paul van Egmond, Gert Bloemen, Patrick Noordermeer, trombones; Ren