Album reviews

Bob Mintzer and WDR Big Band Cologne – ‘Soundscapes’

Bob Mintzer and WDR Big Band Cologne – Soundscapes
(Jazzline D77082. Album Review by Frank Griffith)

Arranger/composer and saxophonist Bob Mintzer‘s latest offering was recorded in 2019 with the WDR Big Band in Cologne. Having studied with, reviewed and followed Mintzer’s output closely since 1977 I would nominate this CD as his finest work to date.

His music dances, ducks and dodges convention with its lightness and clarity. A master of writing rhythmic figures, Mintzer’s horn sections deftly bob and weave amongst each other while while never obfuscating the thread and message at hand. In my experience, this is one of the most  difficult skills to master and one that Mintzer truly excels at in writing for large ensemble.

Mintzer has been the Principal Conductor for the WDR Big Band since 2016 and has  the following to say about this experience: “It is an incredible gift to have such a great band at your disposal and the wherewithal to partake in projects you have always dreamed of doing. The band can play anything you put in front of them and that makes for a wide-open palette as far as developing projects and trying new things”.  Soundscapes is the cumulation of this five year relationship. An amalgam of moods, grooves and enticing textures and colours, it displays Mintzer’s writing for this tight and well crafted ensemble as well as showcasing  his fine tenor saxophone and EWI playing throughout.

There are superb soloists with the WDR band that shine brightly. These include saxophonists Paul Heller, Johan Hörlén and Karolina Strassmayer; trumpeters Ruud Breuls and Andy Haderer, as well as trombonist Andy Hunter. Pianist Billy Test sparkles throughout as accompanist and soloist as does the steadfast and musically “compositional” drumming of Hans Dekker.

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Mintzer’s arrangements range from full on brass to rich woodwind colours that soothe with their subtle instensity. This is clearly embodied on Whack, which delivers asymetric melodies mirrored by quiet atonal harmonies underscored by a clever unfolding slinky groove.

An uptempo I Got Rhythm changes-romp, Herky Jerky is imbued with a Mintzer-esqe quirky forward momentum,  about which the composer explains: “My thinking, again, was an angular sort of stop-start kind of melody with a ‘doctored’ (slightly askew from the norm) bridge”. The result bears a healthy nod to the swinging 1940s tradition infused with a much more contemporary rhythmic pointillism.

Soundscapes is a perfect marriage of Mintzer’s  unique talents in composition, orchestration and counterpoint with his original and distinctive offerings as soloist. A real gem.

Frank Griffith’s sax quartet, SAXTIVITY has a CD “No Deal” out in October 2021. His weekly jazz radio show, “Grifftides” is on Thursdays at 9pm on

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