Jack Bowers, www.allaboutjazz.com
a very good band playing very good music at a fairly high level.
The Würzburg Jazz Orchestra, formed only two years ago by trombonist Markus Geiselhart, hit the ground running with a tribute to the late trumpeter Don Ellis and within a year had recorded its first album, Artistry in Rhythm, dedicated to the music of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. It’s an ambitious start, and by most standards a good one as well.
While it is clear from the opening measure that this isn’t Stan Kenton, it is nonetheless a very good band playing very good music at a fairly high level. In other words, the WJO isn’t comprised of amateurs. Geiselhart, who has since moved to Vienna, Austria, but remains the orchestra’s leader, has his charges well-prepared for this concert performance, which not only includes compositions by Kenton but charts by Bill Holman, Lennie Niehaus, Bill Russo, Gerry Mulligan and even Bob Graettinger (“You Go to My Head,” on which the ensemble experiences its greatest hardships).
There are solo features for trumpeters Klaus Wangorsch (“Portrait of a Count”) and Florian Brandl (“Pennies from Heaven”), alto Johannes Geiss (“Lover Man”) and tenor Jürgen Zimmermann (“Eager Beaver,” “Malaguena”). Ed Partyka, a member of the Vienna Art Orchestra, among other well-known groups, is also “featured,” but only as a member of the trombone section, as he doesn’t solo.
The compositions by Kenton are “Eager Beaver” and “Opus in Pastels,” the last performed by the woodwinds and rhythm. Holman composed “Fearless Finlay” and “Theme and Variations,” Russo “23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West,” Mulligan “Walkin’ Shoes,” Ray Wetzel “Intermission Riff.” Completing the program are “On the Street Where You Live,” arranged by Niehaus, and “Limehouse Blues,” arranged by Holman.
Applause can be heard after the various solos, but for some inexplicable reason, Geiselhart and recording engineer Peter Klautzsch have seen fit to eliminate audience reaction at the end of almost every number, resulting in a series of abrupt and unsatisfactory endings. Aside from that unwarranted and avoidable misstep, there’s not much to complain about, even though the 49:46 playing time is less than one would wish. (One might also wish for Conte Candoli, Zoot Sims, Frank Rosolino, Shorty Rogers, Bill Perkins, Bob Cooper, Maynard Ferguson, Art Pepper, Shelly Manne, Milt Bernhart, Jack Sheldon, Stan Levey and a host of other Kenton stars of yesteryear, but that would be asking far too much.)
Although some die-hard Kenton purists may demur, this is on the whole a commendable effort to keep his music alive by a young but respectable orchestra from Western Europe.