By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 6.3.10
Buy CD: The Avatar Sessions
This phenomenal album features some of the world's best musicians ... and yes, I mean the world's best.
Americans Tim Hagans, Peter Erskine, Dave Liebman, Randy Brecker, Rufus Reid, George Garzone and Vic Juris are joined by Sweden's Norrbotten Big Band, which is known all over Europe.
Trumpeter/composer Hagans and drummer Erskine, both master musicians, first met while with the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Erskine is an exceptional big band drummer; he keeps everything moving, catches every accent and “fills” superbly. Liebman (tenor sax) is a Miles Davis alum; Brecker (trumpet) got his start with Blood, Sweat and Tears; Reid (bass) played with Dexter Gordon and Thad Jones; and Garzone (tenor sax) has worked with everyone in New York City.
Juris, a famed guitarist, appears on one track.
It should be noted that all these musicians have been around for years; their average age is in the late 50s to mid-60s.
And as for the Norrbotten Big Band, it's simply the most swinging big band working in that country ... and the rest of Europe.
This release's seven tracks, all written and arranged by Hagans, are sensational: They're intricate and complex, they swing like crazy, and the ensemble and solo work will take your breath away.
Each tune is related to an individual or event in Hagans' career: “Buckeyes,” a real burner, is a tribute to the many great jazz musicians hailing from Ohio; “Boo” is a boogaloo chart written for Brecker; “Box of Cannoli” is a relatively up-tempo love song; and “Here with Me,” a true ballad, features Liebman's soprano sax.
“Palt Seanuts” mixes Dizzy Gillespie's bop anthem with a traditional Swedish food item. “Rufus at Gilly's” allows Reid to demonstrate his chops, while “Song for Mirka” pays homage to Mirka Siwek, the producer of the Norrbotten Big Band.
The Avatar in the title refers to the New York studio where the recording session took place. The recording quality, mixing and mastering are superb.
Last, but not least, the album packaging is excellent: plenty of photos, concise writing and helpful information. This is a “must have” album for jazz lovers; it's the best thing I've heard in more than a decade.