Royal New Zealand Air Force Jazz Orchestra – Kaiwhakatere – Navigator
(Thick Records NZ TH014. Album review by Nathan Wyde)
Anyone approaching this second album by the RNZAF Jazz Orchestra and expecting military band precision and discipline will find plenty of these qualities. There’s also much writing, arranging and playing that takes this orchestra, whose parent band plays at state occasions and for visiting dignitaries, deeper into the jazz canon.
Several observers have already heard the mighty Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band in this team of reservists’ smartly despatched energy and there are echoes of Gil Evans and George Russell in the sense of drama and suspense created.
The album opens with a fanfare that gives way to a melody shared by trombone, trumpet and baritone as the orchestra explores trumpeter Mike Costeloe’s “Behemoth of the Bathyal Wastes” with its changes of tempo from relaxed swing to greater urgency and a Cuban episode.
All the music is from New Zealand, six of the seven compositions from within the orchestra itself, and the seventh, Drifting, from the pianist-educator Anita Schwabe. This captures exactly what the title suggests with beautifully lush, warm voicings and an atmosphere that inspires imaginative trombone and piano solos.
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There’s something of Stravinsky, or maybe Saint-Saens, about tenor saxophonist Blair Latham’s “Birds of Prey”, with its characterful clarinet solo, and its sibling piece, “Pigeons Reprise” has much avian humour in its playfulness.
“Let’s Not Fall in Love” introduces the sole vocal, from Stephanie Paris, in a song that’s sung clearly and with a coy tone that suggests it might be too late to resist the temptation. And the classic swing of “Royal Blue”, by alto saxophonist Oscar Lavën, manages to convey the same effervescence his quintet delivered on his fine Questions in Red album last year in a highly mobile big band performance.
All in all, there’s much to enjoy in an album that was co-produced by the Wellington-based Scottish drummer John Rae, whose orchestral experience includes playing with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and leading his own Big Feet, an amalgamation of jazz big band and traditional pipe band.