Saturday, March 28, 2015

Swiss Youth Jazz Orchestra: Future Steps

Shanti Music
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Future Steps

Every time I worry about the lack of big band jazz groups within the United States, I find another European ensemble that is keeping that genre alive; such is the case with this marvelous orchestra from Switzerland. This is the first release from a project that features “Bandstand Learning with Role Models.” Young apprentices — their ages ranging from 16 to 26 — are mentored by great professionals: trumpeter Randy Brecker, vibraphonist Mike Mainieri, pianist Christian Jacob and drummer Rodney Holmes.

These nine tracks were recorded at the Jazzaar Festival held in Aarau, Switzerland, in 2014. All but one (“Beirut”) were written especially for this orchestra by its director, Fritz Renold. The style echoes that of the jazz fusion band Steps Ahead. 

You can name-check the soloists in the liner notes; suffice it to say, it’s almost impossible to distinguish between the professional mentors and the talented apprentices. To quote the aforementioned liner notes, “Young, middle age, elderly, these cats can play.”

All but one of the tracks are done at mid- to up-tempos; the exception (“Mandela”) is a moving ballad. Including the special guests, the orchestra features six trumpets/flugelhorns and three trombones; five reeds, one of whom plays an ewi; a rhythm section of piano, two guitars and two basses; and another percussionist. The liner notes don’t specify, but some of the duplicate instrumentalists probably aren’t utilized on all tracks.

We may not have as much big band jazz here in the States as we’d like, but the Swiss sure have their share; don’t miss this contribution.

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