Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge / Swiss Jazz Orchestra / The Aggregation
Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge
The Comet's Tail
On The Comet's Tail, Chuck Owen's superb Florida-based Jazz Surge performs the compositionsyes, compositionsof the late great tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker. As Owen writes in the liner notes, "[Michael's] blinding brilliance as a performer / improviser...may have inadvertently overshadowed or simply redirected attention away from his output and effectiveness as a composer."
The Surge helps redress that shortcoming via a succession of bracing themes that affirm beyond any doubt that Michael Brecker was an uncommonly gifted writer as well as a remarkably influential player. Owen's forces are buttressed along the way by a number of accomplished guest artists including Michael's brother, the celebrated trumpeter Randy Brecker, saxophonists David Liebman and Joe Lovano, guitarist Mike Stern, violinist Rob Thomas, vibraphonist Mike Mainieri and drummer Adam Nussbaum.
Owen arranged half of the eight selections, with the rest divided equally among Fred Stride ("Peep"), Vince Mendoza ("Slings and Arrows"), Dave Stamps ("Sumo") and Gil Goldstein ("The Mean Time"). Randy Brecker solos smartly (muted) on the sinuous "Peep" and (flugel) on the ballad "How Long 'Til the Sun," Stern on "Peep" and "Mean Time," Liebman on "Sumo" (tenor),) "Mean Time" and "Take a Walk" (soprano), Lovano on "Walk" and "Everything Happens When You're Gone," Thomas on the lively "Itsbynne Reel," "Sun" and "Sumo," Mainieri on the spasmodic "Walk." Nussbaum sits in for drummer Danny Gottlieb on "Mean Time" and Walk."
Jack Wilkins, the Surge's tenor soloist, blows vehemently on "Slings and Arrows," "Reel" and "Mean Time," while guitarist LaRue Nickelson has his say on "Slings" and "Reel," pianist Per Danielsson on "Sun," trombonist Tom Brantley on "Sumo." "Everything Happens," showcasing Lovano's dreamy tenor, is a marvelous way to wrap up the radiant session.
Sound and balance are admirable, the ensemble even more so, the invited guests dazzling. In sum, a superior album by any measure, and an impressive tribute to Michael Brecker's uncommon depth and versatility.
Swiss Jazz Orchestra / Michael Zisman
It's not often (make that almost never) that one hears a big-band album whose principal soloist plays the bandoneon, a South American concertina that's a near cousin of the accordion and is most closely associated with the Argentine tango. But such is the case with Close Encounter, an explicitly luminous and charming enterprise by the Swiss Jazz Orchestra that features the virtuosic Michael Zisman on bandoneon.
Besides playing with intensity and panache, Zisman wrote five of the album's eight selections. The others were composed and arranged (as were Zinman's) by music director Bert Joris, a world-class trumpeter who has supervised the jazz ensemble at the Swiss Jazz School (Zinman's alma mater) for two decades. Among the hallmarks of Zinman's solo patterns are his earnest feeling for jazz and staunch propensity to swing, as he does unfailingly on every number. The same is true of the SJO's soloists who complement Zisman on half a dozen tunes. They include trombonist Andreas Tschopp and drummer Tobias Freidli ("Close Encounter"), bassist Lorenz Beveler and flugel Johannes Walter ("Connections"), soprano Adrian Pflugshaupt ("Triple"), Friedli, alto Juerg Bucher and tenor Till Gruenewald ("El Circo"), trombonist Vincent Lachat and flugel Daniel Woodtli ("Agua Tinta") and pianist Philip Henzli ("Sundown").
As for the songs, they are consistently bright and pleasing, from Zinman's opener, the even-tempered "Lauri," through Joris' robust finale, "Sundown." Zinman also wrote "Son Rosas," "Close Encounter," "El Circo" and "Agua Tinta," Joris "Connections" and "Triple" (on which Zinman ends his solo with a quote from Nat Adderley's "Work Song"). While one's thoughts may drift from time to time toward Astor Piazzolla, there are no tangos here, only well-constructed jazz themes.
Coming as it does on the heels of accordionist Richard Galliano's recent tour de force with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, Close Encounter may signal a seismic shift in the jazz landscape toward a couple of instruments that have been generally looked down on in recent years and seldom heard in a big-band framework whose ascription didn't include the name Lawrence Welk.
The Aggregation, the latest in seemingly endless parade of exemplary New York-based ensembles, is the brainchild of trumpeter Eddie Allen who supervises its impressive debut album, the suitably named Groove's Mood. Besides conducting, Allen wrote three of the studio date's ten numbers (including the evocative suite, "The Black Coming"), arranged all of them and solos on three.