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Michael Gibbs and the NDR Bigband – Play a Bill Frisell Set List [TrackList follows] – Cuneiform
Michael Gibbs and NDR Bigband – In My View [TrackList follows] – Cuneiform

Michael Gibbs and the NDR Bigband – Play a Bill Frisell Set List & In My View [TrackLists follow] – Cuneiform, Rune 400 and Rune 401, 61:06 & 57:18 (2 discs) [6/9/15] ****:

Play a Bill Frisell Set List: (Bill Frisell – guitar; Jeff Ballard – drums; Thorsten Benkenstein, Ingolf Burkhardt, Felix Meyer, Michael Leuschner – trumpet/Flugelhorn; Fiete Felsch, Peter Bolte – alto saxophone, flute; Christof Lauer – tenor and soprano saxophone; Lutz Büchner – tenor and alto saxophone, clarinet; Thomas Gramatzki – baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Dan Gotshall, Klaus Heidenreich, Stefan Lottermann – trombone; Ingo Lahme – bass trombone, tuba; Stephan Diez – guitar; Ingmar Heller – bass; Vladyslav Sendecki – piano; Marcio Doctor – percussion)

In My View: (Thorsten Benkenstein (except track 3), Ingolf Burkhardt, Claus Stötter, Reiner Winterschladen, Claas Überschaer (track 3) – trumpet, Flugelhorn; Fiete Felsch – alto and soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute, alto flute; Peter Bolte – alto and soprano saxophone, flute; Christof Lauer – tenor and soprano saxophone; Lutz Büchner – tenor and soprano saxophone, clarinet; Frank Delle – baritone and tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Dan Gotshall, Klaus Heidenreich (tracks 1-4, 6, 8-9), Stefan Lottermann, Sebastian Hoffman (tracks 5, 7) – trombone; Ingo Lahme (tracks 1-4, 6, 8-9), Robert Hedemann (tracks 5, 7) – bass trombone, tuba; Sandra Hempel – guitar (tracks 2, 4-7); Vladyslav Sendecki (tracks 1-3, 6, 8-9), Boris Netsvetaev (track 5) – piano; Ingmar Heller – bass; Adam Nussbaum (tracks 1-2, 5-7), Gene Calderazzo (tracks 3-4, 8-9) – drums; Marcio Doctor (tracks 1-4, 8) – percussion)

The NDR Bigband has produced many albums which have honored different elements of jazz music, assorted composers, and specific artistic visionaries. The large ensemble overseen by composer/arranger Michael Gibbs has recorded jazz fusion, Latin jazz (see the group’s 2012 collaboration with pianist Joe Sample), tunes associated with Sidney Bechet and much more. The ever-busy group issued two separate albums on the same date in 2015 which showcase the NDR approach to jazz as well as Gibbs’ outstanding arranging, set list selection talents and composition skills.

The 61-minute Play a Bill Frisell Set List is a tribute to the esteemed guitarist and a celebration of his music. Frisell met Gibbs in 1975 when Frisell was a Berklee student, and they have remained friends over the intervening decades. This nine-track album isn’t Frisell’s initial big band venture nor the first time he’s been with Gibbs. Frisell was on the Mike Gibbs Orchestra’s 1989 LP Big Music and Frisell’s discography has other big band jazz projects. But this is the first time Frisell has been the featured soloist on a big band session. All but one piece was written by Frisell or previously performed by Frisell. The sole exception is Gil Evans’ “Las Vegas Tango,” which Gibbs chose expressly for Frisell.

The material on Play a Bill Frisell Set List was taped at the Überjazz Festival in Hamburg, Germany on Oct 26, 2013, and puts Frisell into an appealing partnership with superb musicians, including guest drummer Jeff Ballard, who is currently in the Brad Mehldau Trio. He formerly spent time with Ray Charles, Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner and Joshua Redman. Four Frisell originals are given a new configuration. The opener, “Throughout,” is an opulent, stirring ballad which teams Frisell’s guitar with Christof Lauer’s resonating tenor sax. Frisell fans might recognize this either from his 1983 ECM debut, In Line, or the 1991 trio version Frisell did with Kermit Driscoll and Joey Baron. This nearly nine-minute rendition glows with multi-tiered horns (trumpets, Flugelhorns, saxes, clarinets, flutes, and trombones), drums and bass, piano, and Stephan Diez’s complementary guitar. There’s also an enticing two-tune medley of “On the Lookout/Far Away,” both of which can be found on Frisell’s 2013 project, Big Sur.

“On the Lookout” has a filmic characteristic, due to a cinematic theme which could grace a motion picture. Unfortunately, neither Gibbs nor Frisell were used for the 2013 silver screen adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s 1962 novel, Big Sur. Gibbs is certainly qualified. He’s done dozens of movie and television soundtracks. “Far Away” is more atmospheric and otherworldly, in particular when Frisell crafts subversive guitar effects and outsider-jazz guitar runs, abetted by Diez, while Ballard keeps everything grounded with his rhythmic support. The noir-ish “Monica Jane” is another Frisell tune which he’s done in other set-ups, including a quartet interpretation on Paul Bley’s 1986 LP, Fragments; in a sextet formation on Frisell’s 1992 outing, This Land; and as a twin-guitar duet on the 2-CD Jim Hall/Bill Frisell 2008 excursion, Hemispheres. Frisell’s inherent moodiness which moistens “Monica Jane” comes across effectively with the understated but full horns adding coloration. Play a Bill Frisell Set List closes with Frisell’s New Orleans-tinted “Freddy’s Step,” which is highlighted by a brief, bright Ballard solo. “Freddy’s Step” is a short and sassy delight which Frisell listeners should also know, since this cut is on Frisell’s 1988 quartet LP, Before We Were Born. Another notable includes the aforementioned “Las Vegas Tango,” which has a Latin American feel while echoing Evans’ nuanced arranging. A memorable moment occurs when the NDR Bigband and Frisell shine during a fun translation of the Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” which can also be heard on Frisell’s commemoration to John Lennon, the 2011 CD entitled All We Are Saying…

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Gibbs’ is the partial focus for the nine-track In My View. This hour-long studio program, taped over three years whenever the NDR Bigband could get together, is a mixture of four Gibbs originals and intriguing covers, including Thelonious Monk’s “Misterioso,” (which is the only number also on Play a Bill Frisell Set List) plus works by Carla Bley, Ron Carter and Ornette Coleman. The NDR Bigband commence on Gibbs’ “Tis As It Should Be,” which has intertwined exchanges from the many horns, including Lauer’s sax and Claus Stötter’s Flugelhorn. Stötter’s glossy lines circulate throughout this engaging, Latin-shaded piece. Gibbs’ emotionalism is at the forefront of his homage, “As a Matter of Fact,” dedicated to “…my dear Louise.” Gibbs’ Afro-jazz inclinations click along nicely on the succinct, punchy “Spanish Sketch,” and there is traditionalism which courses through the upbeat “So That’s That.” A late-night quality befits Gibbs’ reading of Bley’s penetrating character study, “Ida Lupino,” named after the star and director of various film noirs. Clarinet, ticking cymbals, percussive effects, flute and other finely-detailed instrumental touches contribute to this tune’s stand-out presentation. Another highpoint is a boisterous take of Coleman’s soulful, rural blues tune, “Ramblin’,” (see Coleman’s 1959 LP Change of the Century) where the horns sweep with energy, as Ingmar Heller replicates Charlie Haden’s evocative bass. Guitarist Sandra Hempel also enhances the tune’s verve. Gibbs and the NDR Bigband conclude with Gordon Jenkins’ appropriate adieu, “Goodbye,” which has a lamenting texture imbued with longing and haunting remembrance. Both Play a Bill Frisell Set List and In My View offer harmonically redolent and melodically fertile arrangements in addition to wonderfully tuneful material. If listeners are looking for jazz big band music which doesn’t remain wholly in the jazz past but does not relinquish jazz conventions, these NDR Bigband releases are well worth investigating.

Play a Bill Frisell Set List TrackList: Throughout; Las Vegas Tango; Subconscious Lee; On the Lookout/Far Away; Misterioso; Monica Jane; You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away; Benny’s Bugle; Freddy’s Step.

In My View TrackList: ‘Tis As It Should Be; As a Matter of Fact; Ida Lupino; Spanish Sketch; Mood; Misterioso; Ramblin’; So That’s That; Goodbye.

—Doug Simpson

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