Celebrating the Bundesjazzorchester at 25 (2)

The Bujazzo Jazz Vocal ensemble. Schloss Rheinsberg. August 2012

BundesJazzOrchester and Jazz Vocal Ensemble, Directed by Jiggs Whigham
(Rheinsberg Schlosstheater. 17th August 2012. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Cards on the table, this can’t be an impartial review. When you’ve spent a few days sharing the same air, eating the same Schnitzel and Kartoffeln, witnessing the bright bushy-tailed enthusiasm of a rising generation of musicians queuing, Skyping, practising, when you’ve been hearing snippets of their programme wafting around a baroque castle courtyard, how could it be? It was fascinating to share the momentum of the build-up. And it was exciting to hear the end-product they’d been working hard to achieve.

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The programme I heard was one of two which this Echo Prize-winning band had been working on during their week or “Arbeitsphase” at Schloss Rheinsberg in Brandenburg in Germany. There’s a fuller version of how the BuJazzO’s gets put together HERE.

Jiggs Whigham directed the band throughout the concert, and brought genuine warmth and encouragement to the young German players. Highlights were a stunningly well-delivered account of Marty Paich’s deliberately symphonic treatment of My Old Flame written for the Kenton band – of which Whigham is an alumnus –  neatly propelled by Mareike Wiening at the drum kit, and the encore, Francy Boland’s Sax No End which put the whole band through its paces for a final sprint to the tape.

The technical level which the band achieves is consistently high. For a band which is assembled just twice a year, they also achieved remarkably good balance and that sense of a convergence of purpose. A fair number of the players are in the top conservatoires in Germany, and absolutely know what they are doing. Tenor saxophonist Nils Wrasse from Windeck perhaps stands out as being a particularly assured soloist, with a story to tell. The programme gave him the most opportunities to shine, and he took them.

Tamara Lukasheva

And I won’t forget the sheer tingle factor, that sense of suddenly being transported, which happened when vocalist Tamara Lukasheva from Odessa in the Ukraine started to sing Ellington’s Daydream, in an arrangement by Lennie Niehaus. This is a voice not just with power, gears, scale, but also character and a fabulous way of holding a slow phrase. Just as the white-tailed-eagle was meant to fly high over the River Dnieper, Lukasheva’s is a voice just made to soar over a big band.

There were other skilful players too, who made their mark in just a few bars. Alto saxophonist and flautist Anna-Lena Schnabel had a particularly assertive and fluent and imaginative way of giving predictable chord sequences the slip.

As Whigham announced at the end of the concert: “Sie haben erlebt…die Stars von morgen./ You have just experienced the stars of tomorrow”. It was fitting remark to crown the moment  to which a whole week, and all the anticipation of it had been building.

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