Zurich Jazz Orchestra & Steffen Schorn: Dedications

A sequel to their 2018 Three photos, the Zurich Jazz Orchestra Dedications is a special album. As Andrew Read says in his informative essay: “This recording not only highlights the great musicality of the Zurich Jazz Orchestra, but also highlights one of Europe’s leading Big Bands at the height of their craft.

The most immediate concrete compliment I can give to the group, superbly organized by composer, arranger, conductor and multi-instrumentalist Steffen Schorn, is that the combined and electrifying impact of the striking and variously rendered themes, vocals and ultra-precise and intelligent solos, the organic changes in rhythm and dynamics – the overall poetics of the music – were such that it made me scratch my head and wonder: when did I get so much enjoyed the shape-changing swing, the kicks and stomping, the vibe – a rich mix of ‘mellow’ and ‘scrunching’ from a big band?

Then I remembered June 1971 Changing Scenes – the exceptional encounter between Stan Getz and the Kenny Clarke – Francy Boland Big Band which opens with the eerie 12-tone theme of Extravagance and ends with one of the greatest tracks of all time, the growls and the stomping, pulsating Provocations rhythmically and chromatically. When the majestic 39 minutes of Changing Scenes were reissued by Verve in 1999, cover author Bill Kirchner spoke of “a record for the ages.” I feel the same about the almost 38 minutes of multivalent Dedications.

With the exception of the lovingly crafted ballad that is Til Charlotte, which was composed by Lars Andreas Haug, all of the music was composed and arranged by Schorn (who also arranged Charlotte, his brief coda featuring him on the saxophone C-melody). Like Francy Boland – who composed all the Scene changes – Schorn has a magical way of combining the materials of root jazz, mainly swing, with fresh and invigorating qualities of harmonic movement, allied with a most subtle, often lively approach to dynamics and rhythm. Sometimes here one could speak of a pointillist distribution of resources or of what Schoenberg called “sound-color-melody”. But while Schorn is clearly endowed with considerable gray matter, there is no trace of dry intellectualism or avant-garde aridity in the music: far from it.

Try finger clicking and toe tapping on the multi-stranded, now swirling and building up, now with a casual punch and workout from the too brief opener, The Mad Code. Enjoy the pumping ostinato rhythms and the changing breadth and depth of voicings and attack in the intriguing So Eine – or savor the blend of swing and pandiatonic structure, shifting registers and mellow Caribbean aromas that sets Monsieur apart. P F. Float high on the shimmering, reverie -tone color-rich clouds collectively generated that constitute Martha’s longing. And then take a deep breath – and dive into the trio, ie. 13 minute wonder who Walzer is.

The first part illustrates Schorn’s ability to blend liquid, quasi-filmic themes and considerable structural, rhythmic and dynamic interest with an emerging and freshly voiced swing (Raphael Kalt’s lucid and rhythmically diverse trumpet). The second part presents organically modulated, suspended or “sliding” figures and blocks of riffs and pumping of intertwined colors of tone; it has hard-hitting ostinato section swaps and spiraling climaxes, as well as the more laid-back interludes of reflective lower registers and a lively swing, with a crafty guitar from Theo Kapilidis, the whole shape-shifting ultimately pouring into the intimate and pianissimo coda which is the third part.

Phew! All the details of the always incisive and excellent soloists are given in the details of the tracks of the CD cover. If you’re drawn to fresh, contemporary big band music on the button, delivered with premium precision and passion, don’t hesitate – this is the deal.

The crazy code; Mr. PF; So Eine; Marthe; Until Charlotte; Walzer Part 1; Walzer part 2; Walzer Part 3 (37.39)
Steffen Schorn (conductor, composer, multiple instruments including ss, bs, cl, f, viola rc, prepared t, elp, syn, prepared p, melodica); Murat Cevik (pcf, f, af); Reto Anneler (f, cl, ss, as); Lukas Heuss (as, cl, acl); Thomas Lüthi (ts, cl); Tobias Pfister (ts, bcl); Nils Fischer (bar, Eb-Tubax, bcl); Patrick Ottiger (t, flh, PCT); Wolfgang Häuptli, Raphael Kalt (t, flh); Bernard Schoch (t, flh, flugabone); Adrian Weber, Silvio Cadotsch (to be confirmed); René Mosel (bt); Don Randolph (btb); Gregor Müller (p, kyb); Théo Kapilidis (elg, g); Patrick Sommer (b, elb); Pie Baschnagel (d, pc). Winterthur, September 25-27, 2020.
Mons Archives MR874634

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Henry R. Wright

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