Album reviews

Upper Austrian Jazz Orchestra – ‘Crazy Days: UAJO Plays The Music Of Ed Puddick’  

Upper Austrian Jazz Orchestra – Crazy Days: UAJO Plays The Music Of Ed Puddick
 (ATS Records CD-0972. Album Review by Tony Dudley-Evans

This album is the result of a visit to Austria by composer/arranger Ed Puddick immediately before lockdown in early January 2020 to record with the Upper Austrian Jazz Orchestra (UAJO).  The UAJO is in its 28th year and is known for its flexibility and openness to different styles of big band music.  They have worked with many composers from the USA and Europe, notably Kenny Wheeler, Johnny Griffin, Mike Gibbs, Maria Joao and Slide Hampton, and had collaborated with Ed previously as a result of a recommendation from Mike Gibbs who taught Puddick at Birmingham Conservatoire.

Puddick has a similarly open and flexible approach to composition.  His style on this recording varies from well crafted mainstream writing for a big band with other pieces that show a strong influence from the compositional style of Mike Gibbs.  The first three tracks, Crazy Days, An Ocean of Air and Forum Internum, fall into the first category with strong writing for both the brass and saxophone sections; the textures on An Ocean of Air are particularly attractive.  The influence from Mike Gibbs is most evident on Slow News Day and New Familiar with the emphasis on a strong brass sound and guitar solos from Primus Sitter that reminded me of solos by Chris Spedding on Gibbs’ Tanglewood 69 album.  

The final five tracks are devoted to The Brexit Suite in which Puddick’s compositions are built around the various stages of the endless Brexit saga, and capture the national mood as it changed over the two years.  The mood changes from optimism on June The 23rd 2016 (referendum day) to a mix of sadness and anger on 52% Major 48% Minor to sense of absurdity resulting from the contrast between the promised simplicity of the negotiations and the complex reality on Article 50,  a kind of acceptance on Withdrawal Agreement and surprise and incredulity on Prorogation.I find this short suite to be a good example of how a jazz composition can draw on and relate to an important political event such as Brexit.  It does not make a political statement – though it is clear where Puddick’s sympathies lie – but rather tries to capture in music the atmosphere of the time.

The 17-piece orchestra perform Puddick’s compositions with great sensitivity, and bring out the very attractive textures of his writing.  There are also a number of fine soloists, guitarist Primus Sitter, mentioned above, pianist Herman Hill, saxophonists Andreas See and Christian Maurer and trumpeter Manfred Weinberger.

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LINK : UAJO website

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