April is Jazz Appreciation Month! What better way to appreciate jazz than by celebrating musicians who are still alive and performing, and thus able to appreciate your appreciation of them?
This is the final weekend of Jazz Appreciation Month, and I’m pleased to wrap up this very special month with a brand new album that was just released last Tuesday!
Trombonist Jens (pronounced “Yens”) Wendelboe was born in Copenhagen on February 28, 1956. His family moved to Oslo while he was still a boy and it was there that he attended the Conservatory at Oslo. After spending several years as the leader of one group or another, he travelled to America. In the mid-1980’s he earned a Master Of Music degree from the Manhattan School Of Music.
After graduation, he again performed with several groups of his own. Somehow he managed to find the time also to be the musical director for Donna Summer as she toured the U.S., Europe and Japan. Finally, in 2006, he was selected to be trombonist for the current incarnation of the legendary American Rock/Jazz/Folk band, Blood, Sweat & Tears. He continues to tour and record with them today.
(As you may have noticed if you follow my Twitter feed, an “Aha! I didn’t know that!” moment occurred for me when, while researching Jens and Blood, Sweat & Tears, I discovered that Randy Brecker was one of the original members of said legendary band.)
The album I’m going to tell you about this time ’round is the latest release from The Jens Wendelboe Big Band, “Fresh Heat”. (The band, by the way, was formerly known as the Big Crazy Energy Band. Why they changed the name is beyond me.)
Because this is a big band, the list of personnel is rather lengthy. They are:
Jens Wendelboe, trombone 3 and leader
Deb Lyons, vocals
Tom Timko, 1st alto sax & soprano sax, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet and
Michael Migliore, 2nd alto sax
Mark Fineberg, 1st tenor sax
Joey Berkley, 2nd tenor sax
Sam Botka, baritone sax
Bob Millikan, trumpet 1
Steve Jankowski, trumpet 2
Rick Savage, trumpet 3
Chris Rogers, trumpet 4
Dan Levine, trombone 1 and euphonium
Charley Gordon, trombone 2
George Flynn, bass trombone/tuba
David Anderson, electric bass
Lee Finkelstein, drums
Bill Heller, piano/synthesizer
With special guest soloists:
Ken Gioffre, saxophone
Rob Paparozzi, singer, harmonica
Vinnie Cutro, trumpet
The eight songs on “Fresh Heat” are evenly divided between Jens Wendelboe originals and songs written by others.
The opener is, surprisingly, not one of Wendelboe’s own but rather a Clifford Brown/John Hendricks composition called “Joy Spring”. It begins with vocalist Lyons doing a bit of scat for a minute or so. Then the whole group jumps in and hits the ground running. Alternating between vocalese and instrumental, “Joy Spring” is a great song. Berkley on tenor sax especially shines, to the point of almost stealing the show. Then Lyons returns to finish off the song.
It’s interesting to note that John Hendricks created the lyrics for “Joy Spring” after Clifford Brown had already written the song as an instrumental. This was not the last time he did this, and the practice became known as “vocalese”. (This was another “Aha!” revelation for me.)
Track two is a Wendelboe original called “No Mercy”. Trumpeter Jankowski gets his turn to shine on this one, and to me he and Wendelboe literally carry the tune. Um, no pun intended.
Next we have a song written by Joe Henderson, “Black Narcissus”. This song has a quiet intensity at first. Feinberg on tenor sax is a standout, and then Paparozzi, one of Wendelboe’s pals from Blood, Sweat & Tears, steps up with his harmonica when we’re about 2:20 in, and it becomes a whole new song.
The Rodgers & Hart standard, “My Funny Valentine”, is up next. Lyons’ interpretation of this classic is different than any other I’ve heard. I think Jankowski’s muted trumpet reminds me of something from an old Ralph Marterie album I have, “Music For A Private Eye. The whole song sounds almost retro, which I suppose is not surprising considering when it was written.
Up next is “Falling Grace”, written by composer and bass player Steve Swallow. This one opens quietly enough with Wendelboe playing a quiet, almost melancholy melody, but picks up energy when the rest of the group joins in. Anderson’s bass solo is excellent, and manages to come across sounding almost like an acoustic guitar rather than a bass. Gioffre on tenor sax is another standout who helps make this is cheerful piece of music that you’ll find hard to not like.
Another Wendelboe original is next, the wonderful “What A Trip”. This is my favorite track on “Fresh Heat”. Wendelboe opens it quickly and the whole group continues, making a wonderfully breezy piece of music that will carry you right along. Millikan’s trumpet is outstanding, although if you listen with headphones be aware that he nearly reaches ear-splitting levels at times. (We are all good neighbors, right, and listen at concert hall volume only while using good headphones?)
“Falling Grace” closes with one more Wendelboe original, “Suite To Bjorn”. According to the liner notes, “Suite To Bjorn” “Won The NOPA’s Award ‘Music Piece Of The Year'”. One disadvantage of writing these columns immediately before I post them online is, it limits the amount of time I have for research. Such as, who is this “Bjorn” that the title refers to? That will have to remain a mystery, at least for a while.
“Suite To Bjorn” opens as a quiet ballad, with Migliore on sax giving us a beautiful, plaintive treat. Then about a minute in the pace again quickens as the rest of the group joins in. Several folks take turns soloing on this one, and the result is a true delight to the ear.
Here is Wendelboe with pretty much the same group doing this piece at the Cutting Room in New York City four years ago.
This album is a big band tour de force, and I feel quite confident in saying that you will find it to be an excellent addition to your personal playlist for a Saturday, or any other night!
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I would like to once again discuss newer releases here, as well as older, classic jazz. If you represent a jazz artist with an album you feel would “fit in” here, whether new release or old, please contact me at email@example.com. I will provide you with an address you can submit a review copy.
Please note that acceptance by me of a copy of your album for consideration is no guarantee that it will be reviewed here.
Copyright © 2012 by Al Evans. All rights reserved.
*Note: Some time later this year, I’ll be writing about “Music For A Private Eye”. In the meantime, if you can find a copy at your local used record store or online, snatch it up! You won’t regret it.
UPDATE TO THE NOTE ABOVE: I am writing this update on November 10, 2013. I have moved this article over from BlogSpot and just finished going through adding all the paragraph breaks so the article will be formatted as well as I can make it for easy reading. As to my promise above to write about “Music For A Private Eye” before the year was over, well, that obviously did not happen. And it may not happen before THIS year (2013) is over, either. But it absolutely WILL happen, that I promise you.
Thanks for reading this.