BIG BANDS CELEBRATE INTERCONTINENTAL JAZZ

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

JULY 29, 2019

JUAN ANDRES OSPINA BIG BAND – “TRAMONTANA” Independent Label

Juan Andres Ospina, piano/composer/conductor; Carolina Calvache & Nicolas Ospina, piano; Nadav Remez, guitar; Andres Rotmistrovsky, elec. Bass; Marcelo Woloski, percussion; Petro Klampanis, upright bass; Franco Pinna, Dan Pugach & Ronen Itzik, drums; Magda Giannikou, accordion; Sofia Ribeiro & Lucia Pulido, vocals; TRUMPETS: Sam Hoyt, Jonathan Powell, Bryan Davis & Guido Gonzalez. TROMBONES: Michael Fahie, Matt McDonald & Malec Heermans. James Rogers, bass trombone. WOODWINDS: Hadar Noiberg, flute; Alex Terrier, soprano & alto saxophone; Uri Gurvich, alto sax/flute; Linus Wyrsch & Justin Flynn, tenor sax/clarinet; Carl Maraghi, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet. SPECIAL GUEST: Paquito D’Rivera

It took me a while to get this review written, but the music is so extraordinarily well done, in good faith I had to review this album that was released last year. Juan Andres Ospina is bi-continental, living between New York and Bogota, Columbia. He is a pianist, composer, arranger and producer. Andres is currently one of the most prominent and active Colombian musicians and composers. His debut album, as a leader, was heralded as one of the best jazz albums of the year on the All About Jazz website. Juan Andres and his brother Nicolas Ospina have a YouTube Channel that boasts a following of more than twenty-two million views. In search of perfection in his music, Ospina began his musical studies at the Universidad Javeriana in Bogota. Later, he moved to Barcelona, Spain and continued his classical and jazz studies at the Escola D’Angel Soler and the Taller de Musics. In 2005, Juan Andres Ospina won a scholarship to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music and that’s how he arrived in the United States.

On this album, the pianist and Big Band leader has composed four of the six songs. Each composition and arrangement is extraordinarily melodic and well-played, incorporating that touch of Columbian rhythms and culture dancing brightly beneath his wonderful piano playing. The horn lines are rich as cream, floating to the top of the music and enchanting the listener with emotional deliveries. I was especially impressed by the soprano saxophone solo of jazz icon, Paquito D’Rivera, on Ospina’s composition, “Todavia No.” The arrangement is quite dynamic and driven by powerful percussion and embellished by Andrés Rotmistrovsky’s electric bass. This song introduces me to the Pasillo rhythm from the culturally rich Colombia Andes Mountain community.

“102 Fahrinheit” is another one of Juan Andres’ dramatic, original compositions. It was inspired, not only by the serous global issue of climate change, along with the human race’s need to respect and correct our relationship with Mother Nature, but for one other reason. Juan Andres explained in a recent interview:

“I wrote this piece in an un-airconditioned apartment during a summer heatwave in New York City, with deadlines looming and technology refusing to cooperate. It was a very stressful month. My computer was crashing all the time. It was crazy hot. I couldn’t open the windows because so much noise was coming from the street that I couldn’t concentrate, but if I closed them, it was like a sauna. The intensity of the tune came from the stress of having to meet a deadline and not being able to work in comfort.”

Everything on this production is well arranged, brilliantly played and features a big band that reads like a group of United Nations representatives.

“I thought it would be interesting to have so many different nationalities playing in this band, all bringing their influences to the music in some way,” Ospina shared his insight on forming the band.

“It’s something that might be very common in New York, but from a Colombian perspective, it’s pretty crazy.”

“Like Someone in Love,” the familiar Jimmy Van Heusen composition, is explored and rejuvenated in such a fresh way that I hardly recognized it. It’s a fabulous arrangement and shows Ospina’s genius. He extends the time, stretching the melody sweetly like bubble gum between the fingers of his all-star band and himself. Uri Gurvich takes a spirited alto saxophone solo. I had to play this arrangement twice. Judge for yourself.

Juan Andres Ospina admits it took him some time to persuade his inner-artistic-self that he could actually write, arrange, compose and direct the big band music in his mind.

“I just needed to make it a priority and find the determination to do it. The challenge was enormous, not only because of its gigantic dimensions, but also because I needed to convince myself that I could actually make it happen. It finally struck me like a strong windstorm; like the cold and fierce Tramontana that lashes the Catalan coasts, leaving a clear sky behind. It will stand as a milestone pointing back and forward in my life and career; one in which I had the fortune of joining forces with an incredible group of creative individuals who helped me shaping what you are about to listen to. I hope you will feel the emotion behind it and make it yours too!”

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MIKE HOLOBER AND THE GOTHAM JAZZ ORCHESTRA – “HIDING OUT” Zoho Music

Mike Holober, piano/Fender Rhodes/Conductor; John Hebert, bass; Mark Ferber & Jared Schonig, drums; Rogerio Boccato, percussion; Steve Cardenas, Jesse Lewis & Jay Azzolina, guitars; Billy Drewes, alto & soprano saxophones/flute; Jon Gordon, alto & soprano sax/ Dave Pietro, alto & soprano sax/flute/piccolo. Ben Kono, alto & soprano/flute/clarinet/piccolo/penny whistle; Adam Kolker, tenor sax/flute/alto flute/clarinet; Jason Rigby, tenor sax/flute/clarinet; Charles Pillow, tenor sax/flute/ clarinet/alto flute; Steve Kenyon & Carl Maraghi, baritone sax/bass clarinet; Tony Kadleck, Liesl Whitaker, Scott Wendholt, James de LaGarza & Marvin Stamm, trumpet/flugelhorns; Tim Albright, Mark Patterson, Alan Ferber, Bruce Eidem, & Pete McGuinness, trombones; Nathan Durham, bass trombone.

On disc one, this jazz orchestra, under the direction of acclaimed composer, arranger, Mike Holober, brings a sense of fusion and funk to their arrangements. Obviously, Holober is locking into the pulse of the urban jungle. This is a double disc recording titled, “Hiding Out.” Holober and his all-star Gotham orchestra have been ‘Hiding Out’ since their last acclaimed 2009 release of an album titled, “Quake.” For the past six years, Mike Holober has been busy serving as Artistic Director of New York’s Westchester Jazz Orchestra. he spent five years as Associate Guest Conductor of the HR Big Band in Frankfurt, Germany and somehow found time to conduct and arrange a number of projects for the WDR Big Band in Cologne.

“There’s a double meaning to the title, ‘Hiding Out.’ One is that I’ve been hiding out as a composer, arranger and sideman for other people and as an educator. But it also comes from the places where I wrote or that inspired these pieces. Places with beautiful settings in the mountains and along the banks of beautiful rivers,” Mike Holober explained the title of his current recording, scheduled for release on August 9, 2019.

The first song titled “Jumble” is nearly fourteen minutes long and plush with spirited solos and exciting energy. It was a commissioned piece by the U.S. Army for their Jazz Nights in 2008 and is named for an isolated lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. This tune is soaked in 1970’s fusion. It also incorporates Afro-Brazilian maracatu rhythms.

“Flow” is the next composition and it’s broken down into four suites. Starting out somewhat melancholy on Suite 1. Titled, “Tear of the Clouds” and suddenly bursting into horn excitement on Suite 2. titled, “Opalescence.” The mood changes quickly. The trumpets blare. Saxophones sing improvisational lines above the fray, until the piece settles down into a quieter, introspective section.

Disc two offers a different type of orchestration. It begins in a more classical vein with various soloists bringing the jazz into the production, especially starting with the 5th movement, “It Was Just the Wind.”. Holober is an environmentalist and is involved with many environmental charities. To compose, he found peace and concentration by taking more than thirty-eight trips and spending over a thousand nights in the wilderness. The title suite, “Hiding Out” was commissioned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and funded by the Pew Foundation. Holober wrote the five movements while in Wyoming. He explained:

“This music was written in some of the country’s most beautiful environments, but the vibe of the record is all about New York City.”

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FRED HERSCH & THE WDR BIG BAND – “BEGIN AGAIN.” Palmetto Records

Fred Hersch,piano/composer; Vince Mendoza,arranger/ conductor; THE WDR BIG BAND: Paul Shigihara,guitar;John Goldsby,bass; Hans Dekker,drums; WOODWINDS: Johan Horton & Karolina Strassmayer;Olivier Peters & Paul Heller,tenor saxophone; Jens Neufang,baritone saxophone; Ludwig Nuss,Anrea Andreoli, & Andy Hunter,Trombones; Mattis Cederberg,bass trombone/tuba; TRUMPETS: Wim Both, Rob Bruynen, Andy Haderer & Ruud Breuls.

Six Time Grammy winner, Vince Mendoza, is the arranger and conductor of this extraordinary project. Mendoza is famed for his impeccable orchestrations and the WDR Big Band is celebrated by Downbeat as “one of Europe’s finest large jazz ensembles.” Fred Hersch’s astounding talents on piano have been without precedent in both jazz and contemporary music. Fred Hersch gave us some insight into his expectations for this project featuring nine of his original compositions.

“Vince was very respectful and attuned to the fact that each one of these pieces has its own world and the fact that we had these seventeen musicians at our disposal to create each piece on its own terms was really great. It was a thrill for me to be able to amplify the uniqueness of each piece.”

“Begin Again” opens this album, melodically beautiful and featuring the soaring saxophone of Johan Hӧrlen, with Fred Hersch on the grand piano. The second track is a composition that Fred Hersch claims is probably the closest he’s ever come to writing a standard ballad. It’s a very romantic song with the support of beautifully arranged horn harmonics. I expected the composition titled, “Havana” to be full of energy and Latin flavor. However, this production is very classically infused and not Cuban at all. The title is somewhat misleading. It’s more like Bach visits Havana. Still, it’s very beautifully arranged and dynamically played, as is this entire project. “Out Someplace” was written as a bluesy tribute to Matthew Shepard, a young man brutally beaten, tortured and killed in Wyoming. The University of Wyoming student became a catalyst for Congress to pass the “Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.” President Barack Obama signed the Hate Crime legislation into law and Matthew’s mother, Judy Shepard, rose to notoriety for her prominent LGBT rights activism. This incident perhaps had a particularly significant effect on Fred Hersch, since he himself is celebrated as one of the first, openly gay jazz musicians and he was also diagnosed HIV-positive. This he documented in his 2017 memoir.

As a recipient of the 2016 Doris Duke Artist Award and Jazz journalists Association Awards for Jazz Pianist of the Year in both 2016 and 2018; also garnering the 2017 Prix Honorem de Jazz from L’Academie Charles Cros, (a lifetime achievement honor), this will surely become another plume in the pianist/composer’s cap of honors.

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