Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Jens Wendelboe Big Band: Fresh Heat

Crazy Energy Productions
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Fresh Heat

Don’t be surprised if you’re not familiar with trombonist, composer and arranger Jens Wendelboe. He was born in London in 1956 and raised in Oslo, Norway. He was educated at the latter’s Music Conservatory and, until the mid 1980s, worked extensively throughout Europe. He earned a master of music degree at the Manhattan School of Music in 1985, and subsequently has worked in both Europe and the States.

Wendelboe’s genre is jazz rock: Fans of Blood Sweat and Tears will enjoy this group. BS&T, which came together in 1967, remains active today; almost half a century, with more than two dozen versions of the band during that time period. Wendelboe became a member of BS&T in 2006 and still plays with them, as well as with his own bands. 

I’ve always loved the way BS&T arrangements used the trombone; That horn really wailed, and was key to the band’s swinging sound. Wendelboe produces that same wonderful sound.

His band here is large in the truest sense: The reed section is made up of two altos, two tenors and a baritone sax; the brass section consists of four trumpets and four trombones; the rhythm section is standard — piano/synthesizer, bass and drums — and an excellent female vocalist (Deb Lyons) completes the package. Finally, three guest artists — sax, trumpet and harmonica — are used as soloists on several tracks

Four tunes — “Joy Spring,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Black Narcissus” and “Falling Grace” are familiar jazz standards; the rest are Wendelboe originals. He also did all the arrangements.

The album title, Fresh Heat, is descriptive: This band truly swings at every tempo, including the balladic charts. The horn sections are tight, and the soloists obviously are inspired by the quality of their compatriots and the arrangements. Lyons deserves a special nod; her treatment of “My Funny Valentine” is among the best I’ve heard, and she scats admirably on “Joy Spring.” 

For those who still yearn for the big band days of yore, this album will satisfy your soul.

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