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DICK OATTS/MATS HOLMQUIST NEW YORK JAZZ ORCHESTRA

A Tribute To Herbie + 1

Summit Records MAA 1049

 

 

 

1. Cantaloupe Island

2. Chameleon

3. Dolphin Dance

4. Eye Of The Hurricane

5. Stevie R

6. Maiden Voyage

7. Jessica

8. Watermelon Man

9. Toys

Dick Oatts - Lead alto, soprano sax

Mark Gross - Alto sax, soprano sax

Walt Weiskopf, Robert Nordmark - Tenor sax

Frank Basile - Baritone sax

Nick Marchione - Lead trumpet, flugelhorn

Jon Shaw, Tatum Greenblatt, Frank Brodahl, Joe Magnarelli - Trumpet, flugelhorn

Jakob Gudmundsson - Trumpet (track 4)

John Mosca - Lead trombone

Larry Farrell, Steen Nikolaj Hansen - Trombone

Max Seigel - Bass trombone

Paul Meyers - Guitar

Adam Birnbaum - Piano

Martin Wind - Bass

John Riley - Drums

Here's a tribute to the music of one of the greats of jazz - the inimitable Herbie Hancock. The musicians involved are a mixture of New Yorkers and Scandinavians, reflecting the fact that this was a joint enterprise between saxophonist Dick Oatts and the Swedish arranger/composer Mats Holmquist. Certainly, there's a wealth of big band experience on show. On the American side, there is Oatts himself plus figures such as tenorist Walt Weiskopf, trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, and lead trombonist John Mosca, most of whom were with the Thad Jones - Mel Lewis Orchestra and/or its subsequent incarnations. Indeed, Oatts and Mosca were co-leaders of The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Mats Holmquist, meanwhile, is no stranger to the big band scene. He is the leader of the Swedish outfit Stora Stygga as well as the founder/director of the Swedish National Youth Big Band. Currently, he is Artistic Director for the JZ Allstar Big Band in Shanghai. Tribute CDs that he has previously released include one dedicated to Chick Corea and, with Dave Liebman as soloist with Holmquist's Big Band, a tribute to Wayne Shorter. Holmquist sees his approach as an arranger as essentially minimalist and, without doubt, it brings a distinctive sound to the band. As the album's title suggests, all but one of the compositions are by Herbie Hancock, the exception being Holmquist's Stevie R. The Scandinavian musicians on this recording are the Swedish tenorist Robert Nordmark, trumpeter Frank Brodahl from Norway and the Dane Steen Nikolaj Hansen (trombone).

The opening track, Cantaloupe Island, receives an original treatment with the brass section prominent. Adam Birnbaum contributes an adept (and swinging) solo on piano while Mark Gross on alto is carefree yet gritty. There is a solid bass line throughout. Chameleon was actually a hit single for Hancock the first time around and here receives the lengthiest treatment of all the melodies on the disc. After a tentative opening, the band hits its stride, driven along by John Riley on drums. Walt Weiskopf gives a full-on performance on tenor, then Robert Nordmark takes up the challenge with appropriate vigour before the two interplay. Paul Meyers offers oblique yet accessible guitar. This is a truly cohesive performance by the band as a whole. Dolphin Dance is a favourite Hancock composition for Holmquist. Birnbaum presents a smooth and stylish introduction, subsequently sounding at times positively Shearing-like. Holmquist's minimalism can be heard in his arrangement for the brass section. The saxophones are on song especially Dick Oatts' searching solo on soprano. Enjoyable. Eye Of The Hurricane is, simply, a romp which allows scope to showcase the talents of John Riley on drums as well as the fierce Joe Magnarelli on trumpet, Weiskopf on tenor and Oatts on alto. The Holmquist composition, Stevie R. reflects the Swede's indebtedness to minimalist Steve Reich, and, for me, is an outstanding track. From an unorthodox start, it builds in power and volume. Joe Magnarelli's lyrical trumpet is matched by the graceful Birnbaum on piano. There is a very fine orchestral accompaniment to the soloists, through to the rousing finale. This is a treat, for sure.

Maiden Voyage sees Magnarelli at the top of his game and Oatts' delicate tone on soprano sax evokes shades of Wayne Shorter. Riley's drumming is impeccable and the band overall impress once more. Jessica is the only true ballad on the album and possesses an appropriate romanticism. Martin Wind delivers an articulate solo on bass and with Oatts alternately wistful and forceful on soprano, this is mood music at its best. Watermelon Man is yet another ingenious arrangement which offers some strong ensemble work plus the punchy Walt Weiskopf on tenor and Frank Basile in the groove on baritone sax. Toys has very much an experimental feel about it, as Holmquist suggests in his liner notes. Walt Weiskopf, who is gainfully employed throughout the disc, again solos as does Robert Nordmark. Towards the end of the piece, the vastly experienced John Riley contributes powerfully on drums.

There's nothing much more to say except to express my admiration for this well-drilled group of musicians who have produced a worthy homage to Herbie Hancock. If you like big bands, this should surely float your boat!

James Poore





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