George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band – Matterhorn Matters – MGB Jazz 3, 54:00 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:
(Artists include: George Gruntz, piano and leader; Lew Soloff and Alexander Sipiagin, trumpets; Jeff Stockham and Dave Bargeron, trombones; Howard Johnson, tuba; Chris Hunter and Scott Robinson, reeds; Arie Volinez, bass; Francois Laizeau, drums)
With the exception of some “ghost” bands, George Gruntz’s Concert Jazz Band is near the top of the present longevity scale of big bands, with thirty eight years under their belt. With some changes in personnel, this band has been around since 1972. From early on, George has had a strong representation of well known American jazz artists in his European based band and on Matterhorn Matters he makes no exception. Well known stateside artists here include the brilliant multi-instrumentalist, Scott Robinson as well as trumpeter, Lew Soloff, trombonist, Dave Bargeron, tuba player, Howard Johnson, and Russian American trumpet sensation, Alex Sipiagin.
Recorded live in Europe at KKL Lucerne, the CD opens with a playful “Choro Loco” which features accordionist Luciano Biondini, and Lew Soloff on piccolo trumpet, as well as Chris Hunter on flute and Dave Bargeron on trombone. It’s a mad race to the finish and must have been a big crowd pleaser. “Artist’s Arteriology” inspired by an old Swiss song is anthemic and has a lovely warm solo by the French horn of Jeff Stockham. You can almost smell the clean air of the Alps. I wish it was longer than the 2:58 length.
The title track is the featured piece of the evening, and Howard Johnson’s bleating tuba hits the lowest of the low notes. At a full 15 minutes, several artists get to stretch out on their solos on this piece commissioned by the Swiss Cultural Foundation. Its themes cross from march tempo to classical to free form motifs.
“His Master’s Choice” written by Franco Ambrosetti on the occasion of Gruntz’s 75th birthday, takes the listener on a drum driven brass filled journey that cooks on all burners. The classic “My One and Only Love” is taken at a leisurely pace with a somber mood turning bluesy by Larry Schneider’s tenor sax and Dave Bargeron’s Euphonium. Stevie Wonder’s “Too High” gets a big band treatment with Wonder’s melody getting a saxophone heavy reading followed by a trumpet and then drum solo.
The inventiveness of Matterhorn Matters ends with a friendly duel between Scott Robinson on baritone sax battling the bottom end of the scale with tuba virtuoso Howard Johnson on Gruntz’s composition, “Scott and Howard.” All arrangements on Matterhorn Matters are by Gruntz and he shows he is still going strong approaching his 79th birthday this summer. You can sense his mischievousness and joy in composing and arranging. Matterhorn Matters is a gas.
TrackList: Choro Loco, Artist’s Arteriology, Matterhorn Matters, His Master’s Choice, My One and Only Love, Too High, Scott and Howard
— Jeff Krow