Joe Sample, George Gee, Fresh Cut Orchestra And Swiss Youth Jazz Orchestra: Big Band Extravaganzas – Releases Not To Miss

(Jan 25, 2015, 9:13 AM PDT)

“No wonder these young, European musicians play so well and capture the essence of jazz. It’s part of a history they recognize and one that’s been taught in Europe. Jazz music is something sadly missing in many of our American public schools, as art and music are deliberately deleted from curriculums.”

Joe Sample & The NDR Big Band – “Children of the Sun”

Joe Sample
Joe Sample

Joe Sample, grand piano & Fender Rhodes; Ingmar Heller, double bass; Steve Gadd, drums; Stephan Diez, guitar; Marcio Doctor, percussion; Nils Landgren, solo trombone; Peter Bolte, Sebastian Gille, Frank Delle, Bjorn Berger, Fiete Felsch, Lutz Buchner & Gabriel Coburger on Reed instruments; Dan Gottshall, Klaus Heidenreich, Stefan Lottermann on trombones; Ingo Lahme, bass trombone; Trumpets & Flugelhorns played by: Thorsten Benkenstein,Ingolf Burkhardt, Claus Stotter, Reiner Winterschladen & Dirk Lentschat. All compositions written by Joe Sample and all arrangements credited to Jorg Achim Keller. Mixed in Los Angeles at Schnee Studio.

We celebrate Joe Sample’s amazing talent posthumously with an album he worked on in his head for many years before it came to fruition. According to Mr. Sample’s linear notes, he visited the Virgin Islands in 1995, to perform at the St. Croix Jazz Festival. After the concert, he spent a few days exploring the region. At one time, the island of St. Croix was famous for its rich sugar cane fields and potent dark rum. A lucrative slave trade thrived to support the farming and processing of that sugarcane. This period of slavery became known as the “middle passage”. Today, the ruins of the sugar cane plantations and the deserted processing plants are tourist attractions. I myself visited them when I was in St. Croix a few years back. So, Joe Sample climbed a tall slope during his exploration of the island and looked out at the expanse of ocean surrounding St. Croix. He was so emotionally moved, he could picture the stranded African slaves looking out and dreaming they had wings to fly away from their dreadful fate and back to their beloved continent. That’s when he began to formulate the inspired music that St. Croix stimulated. Songs like “I Wanna Go Home” and “Buttermilk Sky” became theme songs in his head. Many years later, Joe Sample put them to pen and with the NDR Big Band, recorded them.

African-American writers have referred to those early slaves in the Virgin Islands as “Children of the Sun”. So that became Sample’s tribute to their vibrant history and unimaginable plight. On compositions like “Islands of the Mind”, Sample’s distinctive bluesy piano licks and improvised funk-style is profoundly present. The more ‘straight-ahead’ “Rumfire” composition features the brilliant trumpet and flugel horn work of Thorsten Benkenstein, Ingolf Burkhardt, Claus Slotter, and Reiner Winterschladen. Nils Landgren produced this exquisite work of art along with Patrick Rains. The cover art is as stupendous as the music itself. The painting was created by multi-talented, Geoffrey Holder. This recording was made January 10 – 14, 2011 and recorded in Hamburg, Germany at the NDR Studio; Consequently, the NDR Big Band credit. Under conductor Jorg Achim Keller, it was released in 2014 on PRA Records. Here is a lush, well-mixed, richly orchestrated celebration of Joe Sample’s unforgettable talent as a composer and pianist. This was his first studio recording of all new compositions since his Grammy nominated “Pecan Tree” in 2002.

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George Gee Swing Orchestra – “Swing Makes You Happy!”
Rondette Jazz Records

George Gee
George Gee

George Gee, Bandleader; David Gibson, Musical Director & Trombone; Hilary Gardner, vocals; John Dokes, vocals; Ed Pazant, alto saxophone; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone; Anthony Lustig, baritone Saxophone; Andy Gravish, trumpet; Freddie Hendrix, trumpet; Steve Einerson, piano; Marcus McLaurine, upright bass; Willard Dyson, drums.

Bandleader George Gee and his musical director/arranger & trombonist, David Gibson, share a common passion. It’s for the work of Count Basie. Both the music and the man greatly inspired this body of work.

Recorded at Studio G, Room B in Brooklyn, New York on March 18th of 2014, here are a group of musicians as familiar as siblings. Their songs were laid down ‘live’, one after another, one-take only. After all, they have been playing together consistently as the GGSO (George Gee Swing Orchestra), entertaining audiences at the Swing 46 Jazz & Supper Club in New York City and other East Coast places. So they were well rehearsed and eager to lay down their rendition of ‘Swing’.

Bam! The first song struts off my CD player with gusto. “Comin’ Home” is composed by David Gibson and it’s a strong, comely composition, both melodic and hard-bop. “Sweet Pumpkin” and “No Moon At All” feature Hilary Gardner on vocals and she too knows how to ‘Swing’. The horn arrangements on “No Moon At All” are outstanding and support the vocals with punch and tenacity. The sixth cut “I Knows” again is a composition by Gibson, featuring pianist Steve Einerson. Einerson stretches out, leaving an indelible mark on the tune with flying fingers and deft harmonics. There were a couple of rough patches, as band members took solos and fell short on pitch and prowess, but for the most part, you can get your swing-dancer-shoes on. This album will make you get up and dance.

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Fresh Cut Orchestra – “From The Vine”
FCO Records

Orchestra led by: Josh Lawrence, trumpet; Jason Fraticelli, upright bass & Anwar Marshall, drums. Mark Allen, baritone & soprano saxophone/bass clarinet & flute; Mike Cemprola, alto & tenor sax/bass clarinet & flute; Brent White, trombone; Brian Marsella, piano/Rhodes & keyboards; Matt Davis, guitar; Tim Conley, laptop & electric guitar. Francois Zayas, bongos & percussion.

This is no traditional orchestra production. From the very first strangely eerie and odd birthing of “The Mother’s Suite,” I knew this was going to be a project I either loved or hated. Cut #1, “Birth of a child, Birth of a mom” is infused with bird songs and jungle noises atop a steady bass plunging the rhythm up and down. At first, I struggled to find some melodic content and stability. Cut II, titled “Mother’s Love” settled into a Latin music groove with horns blasting a hummable chant. Soon, an improvised solo floated freely atop the repetitious Latin line. At this point, I stopped fighting to fit this CD concept into a mold and just ‘let it happen’. Here is a musical story that insists on being told. It captures the imagination and offers us something beyond our expectations. Like jazz itself, it is an audible painting full of improvisation and freedom. The third song opens with percussion only, and is quite beautiful, featuring solo drums recorded crystal clear. This is called “The Ritual of Take” and features the talents of Francois Zayas on bongos and percussion with Anwar Marshall joining later on drums. “Elegy for a Mom” features Jason Fraticelli on upright bass. It’s a stunning and beautiful solo adventure. This unusual recording is also produced by bassist, Jason Fraticelli, Anwar Marshall and Josh Lawrence. It was composed and recorded as a tribute to Nancy SanSoucie and dedicated to the love, respect and loss of a mother. If you are looking to listen to something completely fresh, emotional and cryptically creative, (perhaps a bit to the left of avant-garde), you will find this work of musical art quite appealing.

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Future Steps – The Swiss Youth Jazz Orchestra – Live at Jazzaar Festival 2014 – Aarau, Switzerland
Shanti Records

The Swiss Youth Jazz Orchestra: Silvan Schmid & Benjamin Lindner, trumpets; Marco Leibach and Sebastian Way, trombones; Chris Sommer, alto & soprano saxophones; Christophe Huber, flute & tenor Sax; Felix Piringer, ewi & tenor sax; Frederik Baatz, baritone sax; Claude Stucki and Lydia Renold, guitar; Ani Wollstein, keyboard; Sharon Renold, bass; Marco de Sousa, percussion.

Featuring Special Guests: Randy Brecker, trumpet; Mike Mainieri, vibes; Kevin Bryan, lead trumpet; Christian Jacob, piano; Markus Hauser, saxophones; Alphonso Johnson, bass; Christian Kramer, trombone; Rodney Holmes, drums.

Long before the average American embraced jazz as a popular and important art form, when America was still labeling it ‘devil music,’ the European Continent was wrapping strong arms around jazz and studying its multi-layered cultural references. Europe gladly embraced jazz and jazz musicians, particularly African American jazz musicians, who were made to feel at home on European shores. Many black musicians migrated to Europe to flee racism and the barbaric treatment of African American people at home. Inside the music, Europeans detected early English spirituals that had been drummed into the African slave population. They heard the polyrhythms of the African Continent blended with classical scales and the influence of South America and Latino cultures. Today they hear hip-hop, R&B and pop fused into jazzy formats that stretch beyond categorization. No wonder these young, European musicians play so well and capture the essence of jazz. It’s part of a history they recognize and one that’s been taught in Europe. Jazz music is something sadly missing in many of our American public schools, as art and music are deliberately deleted from curriculums.

You will hear improvisation and big band harmonics at their best on this recording. And, for what these new breeds on the horizon lack in musical experience, they have employed several special guests to take up the slack. Not that these young players lack much. Every cut on this CD is pure pleasure and sustainable next to Basie, Gil Evans or Ellington Orchestras. The masters would be proud! This album is an absolute winner, directed by Fritz K. Renold and recorded live at the Jazzaar Festival in Switzerland.

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