Sunday, April 27, 2008

Jazz In Holland - Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra

I often hear friends of my generation who grew up listening to the music in the 1950’s and early 1960’s lament that - “Jazz is Dead.”

Given the preponderance of the music at this time in its history in every setting from clubs to concert halls to radio stations, all featuring many of the original makers of the music and the generation that followed, this dejection is understandable.

Today’s “Jazz Scene” is a paltry comparison at best with clubs, large venues and record labels that offer Jazz vanishing at an ever-alarming rate.

And yet, there is hope, for to those who are busy composing Jazz’s epitaph, this post like its earlier companion “Jazz in Italy” [which is still up on the column or left side of this blog] is intended to allay these apprehensions with the reassurance that Jazz is also alive and well in The Netherlands.

This feature of Jazz in Holland kicks off with a review of Introducing the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra the details of which can be found at Succeeding articles under this heading will show that Jazz in Holland in all is manifestations is a going concern.

If you like your big band jazz with plenty of finger-poppin’, blaring brass riffs, mellow, unison sax choruses, driving rhythm sections, exciting solos, and churning shout choruses, the initial recording by this marvelous big band entitled Introducing the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra is for you. Strap-in because this one comes at you full bore from the get-go with charts that are superiorly played by a group of quality of musicians.

The principal in charge of this swinging big band’s maiden voyage is arranger-composer Johan Plomp. Mr. Plomp is aided an abetted in the album’s production by trumpeter Rob van de Wouw and trombonist Louk Boudesteijn, both of whom assume prominent roles in the orchestra’s brass section and as soloists on the album.

Mr. Plomp offers three originals on the disc: “Tale for Tale,” “Happy Birthday, Cat!, and “Slow Piece.” All of these are well-constructed compositions that feature inspired solos by Rob van de Wouw [tp], Cyrille Oswald [ts], Louk Boudesteijn [tb], Simon Rigter [ts] and Marco Kegel [as].

But it is Mr. Plomp’s skills as an arranger who is very much in the Bill Holman, Thad Jones and John Clayton tradition that will help you take away from a listening of this recording the irrefutable sense that all is well with the Jazz World as it currently resides in Holland.

These excellent arranging and orchestrating skills can be heard to full advantage on Mingus’ “Nostalgia on Times Square” [which drummer Martijn Vink kicks and fills into next week], Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” [close your eyes and you would think that trumpeter Jan van Duikeren is the rebirth of Clark Terry on Doc Serverisen’s “Tonight Show Band”], Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil” [that will introduce you to the latest Dutch piano phenomenon with the engaging name of Rembrandt Frerichs], Bronislau Kaper’s “Invitation” [featuring Simon Rigter whose playing would put a smile on Zoot Sims and Al Cohn’s faces, respectively], and Oscar Pettiford’s “Bohemia After Dark” [with more van Duikeren on trumpet and the marvelous Aram Kersbergen on bass].

In addition to Mr. Plomp’s tunes, two additional original compositions are contributed by the Jazz Orchesrta of the Concertgebouw’s guitarist Jesse van Ruller’s “Have a Heart,” and the Metropole Orchestra’s principal trombone soloist Ilja Reijngoud’s “Original Blonde.” More about these orchestras and these artists will be featured in future editions of Jazz in Holland.

The orchestra’s ensemble work is impeccable, their attention to dynamics is admirably rare and their unison section work shows hours of practice in obtaining the enviable “one voice that still retains distinctive elements” that very much harkens back to the Ellington tradition.

While listening to this recording, I got the sense that the musicians in the orchestra enjoys what they are doing and are proud of being able to do it well. Playing in a big band with 15-16 other musicians entails a sense of responsibility and constant concentration as there are so many things that can go wrong. These guys also seem to have the infectious sense of camaraderie that is such a part of good big bands. They appear to be having a ball playing this stuff and want everyone else to have a good time, most especially the listener.

A predecessor to Introducing the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra can be found in
Johan Plomp’s Swinging on a Star – by his ‘small big band’ [think Marty Paich’s sound on the famous Art Pepper + Eleven Contemporary CD OJCCD 341-2 ].

The small band is scaled back to two trumpets, three trombones, three saxes and piano-bass-drums with Hans Vroomans replacing Rembrandt Freichs on piano.

Once again, Mr. Plomp’s original compositions form the basis for the band’s repertoire but his treatment of Sonny Rollins’ “Airegin” and “Pent-Up House,” as well as such standards as “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Swinging on a Star” and “If I Should Lose You” provide enough familiar material to help judge his skills as an arranger-composer. And I’m sure after you had the chance to listen to his work you’ll come way with the impression that such skills are first-rate, indeed.

Mr. Plomp’s written, “improvised” choruses which appear throughout these compositions and which the band performs either in sections or in total unison are beautifully put together and swing like mad. Obviously they have the advantage of being planned-ahead rather than made-up-on-the-spot, but Gerry Mulligan Bill Holman, Hank Mancini and Bob brookmeyer, among others, also had the gift of writing wonderfully interesting ‘prepared’ solos which they made an integral part of their arrangements.

If you are a lover of big bands, in full or modified formats, listening to these two albums may tempt you to move to Holland where Jazz is obviously alive and well.

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