07/01/12 Albums By Scott Albin
Fresh Heat– The Jens Wendelboe Big Band
There continues to be a slow but steady stream of new releases by big bands, although the few that are actual working bands are lucky to land anything better than once a week or once a month gigs, or a rare concert date. The talented arranger, composer, and trombonist Jens Wendelboe’s new Fresh Heat CD is a follow-up to his 2010 Inspirations, and features the identical 16-piece orchestra. The Norwegian-born Wendelboe, who has lived in the U.S. for the past ten years, cites “everyone from Rimsky-Korsakov to George Martin to Thad Jones, Neal Hefti and Bob Brookmeyer” as arranging influences, but he grew up listening to groups such as Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago, and Tower of Power. In fact, he has played trombone with Blood Sweat & Tears since 2006, and was once Donna Summer’s musical director. The music on Fresh Heat is essentially mainstream big band fare, but with an exuberant vitality perhaps derived from Wendelboe’s non-jazz leanings, and certainly aided by his proficient arranging and composing.
The first three Wendelboe arrangements on Fresh Heat were originally commissioned by the acclaimed Westchester Jazz Orchestra. Deb Lyons initially scats the theme of Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring” with backing ensemble voicings, before launching into Jon Hendricks’ lyrics with silky-toned gusto. Vinnie Cutro’s swirling trumpet solo, and Joey Berkley’s churning tenor improv are followed by the orchestra in full flight playing intricate passages, before Lyons joins in for the energizing reprise. The leader’s own “No Mercy” has an insinuating “Peter Gunn Theme”-like rhythm generated by electric bassist David Anderson, and quotes from Blood Sweat & Tears memorable “Spinning Wheel.” A fiery Steve Jankowski trumpet solo, and a more pungent one from trombonist Wendelboe help make this an enjoyable ride all the way. Tenor saxophonist Mark Feinberg executes the theme of Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus” with a sound similar to the composer’s, as the orchestra provides punctuations both sinuous and brash. Feinberg’s solo is urgently communicative, and Rob Paparozzi’s appealing harmonica jaunt is warmly lyrical. The arrangement overall is successfully textured to bring to the fore the core beauty of Henderson’s creation.
Lyons sings “My Funny Valentine” with grace and unerring, and at times, soaring articulation. The emphatic colorations of the saxes and brass show the influences of Brookmeyer, Jones, and even Gil Evans. Jankowski’s exciting muted trumpet weaves in and out improvisationally, and Tom Timko’s soprano pierces through briefly, but impactfully, as well. Wendelboe’s arrangement of Steve Swallow’s “Falling Grace” won an award from Italy’s Barga Jazz competition. After Wendelboe delivers the theme with subtle feeling, there appears an exhilarating orchestration of pianist Bill Evans’ spirited recorded solo on the tune, and then Anderson’s electric bass solo evokes Swallow’s own improv with Gary Burton. Ken Gioffre’s burly tenor statement also elevates the track. Swallow himself has commented: “It’s warming to hear my tune treated with such care.”
Wendelboe plays the theme of his own spirited, swaggering “What a Trip,” and his solo is fittingly down-to-earth and swinging. The unison ensemble portions are seamless, and build robustly on the melody. Bob Millikan’s invigorating trumpet exploration leads back to a rocking finale. “Nix Vogel” is dedicated to the late drummer Ole Jacob Hansen. Bill Heller’s ringing synthesizer enriches the pensive theme exposition by Feinberg’s tenor. The orchestra’s entry signals a drastic change in tempo and urgency, as the sections race through their parts with sparkling animation. Whirlwind solos from altoist Michael Migliore and trumpeter Chris Rogers transpire, with the band in persistently rousing support.
“Suite to Bjorn” was a winner of an award from the Norwegian Popular Composers Union (NOPA), and is Wendelboe’s tribute to Bjorn Kruse, one of his music teachers in Norway. Migliore’s alto interprets the entrancing melody before the full band comes storming in with uplifting thematic elaborations. Migliore’s driving solo, Heller’s prancing electric piano spot, and Timko’s towering soprano precede the band’s free form interlude and an adamant drum solo by Lee Finkelstein. The closing part of the suite highlights Timko’s probing, propulsive improv, stimulated by Anderson’s bass, Heller’s synth, Finkelstein’s drums, and, of course, Wendelboe’s ceaselessly inventive writing for his big band.
Jens Wendelboe Big Band – Fresh Heat (2012)
by Jordan Richardson
Jens Wendelboe is putting together some terrific stuff with his big band and Fresh Heat is the latest in what should be a regular occurrence on the jazz release calendar.
This is a record brimming with delight and joy, elements that are sadly all too rare through much of modern jazz. Wendelboe’s sound is bracingly contemporary and energetic. It refuses to sit and decay in the past. It refuses to slog through the same old spaces, dotting and crossing the “right” letters for the sake of “tradition.”
No, what we have with Fresh Heat is an album that lives up to its title — and then some. Much like the vibrant Inspirations before it, Wendelboe’s latest is a pleasing accumulation of energy that forms at just the right time and blows the damn roof off.
Wendelboe plays with the same big band from Inspirations, an imposing 16-piece unit that includes the likes of Charley Gordon (trombone), Steve Jankowski (trumpet) and David Anderson (electric bass). The pristine Deb Lyons also pops by on vocals. Wendelboe has proven himself as an intuitive, high-energy bandleader (and a pretty decent trombonist). Fresh Heat gives him a chance to notch things up a bit. He burns his band through fiery grooves and cools things down to a light sizzle at the right moments, layering his sounds with affectionate glee and surprising emotion.
The Clifford Brown classic “Joy Spring” takes the lead spot. Lyons beautifully blends with the band immediately and sets the sunny tone. It is a fresh start, one that feels like a cool breeze just a touch before the heat kicks in. Lyons’ tone is sophisticated and her diction is faultless as she ventures through the off-centre vocals. Having Vinnie Cutro drop in a few trumpet trimmings is a nice touch.
Things really get cooking (and swinging) on the delicious “No Mercy.” The Wendelboe original is a scorcher of a song, built on a funky groove. The horns blast away from all sides and drummer Lee Finkelstein’s got to be having a blast playing this one. His fills are off the chart. A remarkably reconstructed “My Funny Valentine” is another Fresh Heat highlight. Lyons is back in the vocal seat, blending stylishly with an arrangement that seems to have some slight noir kisses. Jankowski’s muted trumpet is downright mean.
With an immaculate gift for leading a hazardously good throng of brassy immensity and a knack for distilling some classic numbers into hip current conceptions, Jens Wendelboe certainly knows his stuff. Fresh Heat is yet another example of his cleverness. And the band’s not half bad either.
The Jens Wendelboe Big Band: Fresh Heat
By Georg W. Harris
Here’s a big band that’s got some originality to it. Trombonist Jens Wendelboe writes and arranges a good percentage of the material here, with a mix of instrumentals and vocals. The latter feature Deb Lyons on an intriguingly swinging take of “Joy Spring,” while “My Funny Valentine” flutters like a paper airplane. The take of “Black Narcissus” has some exciting charts and soloing by tenorist Mark Feinberg, while the nine minute epic “Suite to Bjorn” takes you on a wondrous journey through moods and sounds. Steve Swallow’s “Falling Grace” has the leader creating a multi-hued chart, along with his own ‘bone work impressive throughout. Big band fans will love this puppy.
The Jens Wendelboe Big Band: Fresh Heat
Buy CD: Fresh Heat
The Jens Wendelboe Big Band: Fresh Heat (2012)
Published: May 3, 2012
A superb follow-up to his well-received Inspirations, Vol. 1 (Rosa, 2010) ensemble excursion, veteran trombonist, band leader, and award-winning Norwegian composer/arranger, Jens Wendelboe unleashes a little Fresh Heat from The Jens Wendleboe Big Band. The disc features contemporary interpretations of classic compositions by trumpeter Clifford Brown saxophonist Joe Henderson and bassist Steve Swallow, along with several originals. Wendelboe—who grew up listening to the energetic sounds of the pop group Blood, Sweat & Tears (of which he is now a member), Chicago, and Tower of Power—became a convert to the brassy side of music, a sensibility influencing his arrangements and producing the “snappy, fresh and hot” contemporary sound on this burner of an album.
The sixteen-piece Jens Wendelboe Big Band is the exact same group that recorded the previous album under the name the Big Crazy Energy New York Band, and is the latest incarnation of his original Norwegian Big Crazy Energy Band of 1991. The leader has an extensive resume composing for the film and television industry and, when not working there, lends his talents writing and arranging for jazz orchestras. Accordingly, the first three pieces of this set are fresh arrangements commissioned by the Westchester Jazz Orchestra.
Clifford Brown’s magical “Joy Spring” starts slowly with a lyrical introduction by vocalist Deb Lyons, then springs to life with sparkling solos from guest trumpeter Vinnie Cutro and saxophonist Joey Berkley. Co-producer and trumpeter Steve Jankowski joins Wendelboe on the dark-toned, yet propulsive “No Mercy,” setting up one of the special moments with a sensational treatment of Henderson’s classic “Black Narcissus,” which features guest harmonicist Rob Paparozzi
The oft-recorded Rodgers and Hart standard “My Funny Valentine” provides another vocal opportunity for Lyons with tasteful support from the band, which holds back just a bit as the melody and tone of the chart requires. Wendelboe introduces a reprise of his Barga Jazz Competition Award-winning arrangement of Swallow’s “Falling Grace,” but also includes a spirited solo from David Anderson, playing electric bass as a tribute to the composer. One of the disc’s highlights is Wendelboe’s powerful “Nix Vogel,” dedicated to the late Norwegian drummer Ole Jacob Hansen and featuring the prowess of Lee Finkelstein, in addition to many of the drummer’s band mates.
The album closes with “Suite to Bjorn,” featuring pianist Bill Heller and Finkelstein, who turn up the heat with some funky sounds to accompany the fine orchestrations. This is another one of Wendelboe’s prize-winning compositions, dedicated to Bjorn Kruse, Wendelboe’s orchestration/composition teacher in Norway. It’s easy to understand why Wendelboe likes the title of “Crazy Energy Band” when referring to his previous groups and recordings; his compositions and clever arrangements seem to produce a kind of high-energy crazy big band sound that Fresh Heat exemplifies so well.
Track Listing: Joy Spring; No Mercy; Black Narcissus; My Funny Valentine; Falling Grace; What A Trip; Nix Vogel; Suite to Bjorn.
Personnel: Jens Wendelboe: trombone; Deb Lyons: vocals; Tom Timko; alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone saxophone; Michael Migliore: alto saxophone; Mark Fineberg: tenor saxophone; Joey Berkley: tenor saxophone; Sam Bortka: baritone saxophone; Bob Millikan: trumpet; Steve Janowski: trumpet; Rick Savage: trumpet; Chris Rogers: trumpet; Dan Levine: trombone, euphonium; Charley Gordon: trombone; George Flynn: bass trombone, tuba; David Anderson: electric bass; Lee Finkelstein: drums; Bill Heller: piano; Ken Gioffre: tenor saxophone (5); Rob Paparozzi: harmonica (3); Vinnie Cutro: trumpet (1).
Jens Wendelboe is a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music in New York, where he mastered in composition and film scoring. He has also studied at the Østlandske Music Conservatory in Oslo, Norway, where he received a bachelor degree in classical trombone. He is also a teacher today.
“Fresh Heat” is Wendelboe’s latest big band/jazz release, and it is full of power horns. The kind I remember from the band Chicago’s early hay days. Wendelboe adds some incredibly versatile and dynamic guest artists to his big band, and together they deliver a wonderful and inspired set of eight tracks.
Great for relaxing or at times dancing. It is all here for the jazz enthusiast that loves the high and low notes from the brass.
1. Joy Spring
2. No Mercy
3. Black Narcissus
4. My Funny Valentine
5. Falling Grace
6. What A Trip
7. Nix Vogel
8. Suite to Bjorn
Added: August 11th 2012
Reviewer: Mark Johnson