Saturday, July 29, 2023

Summer Shorts: Big Band Edition #1

 Plenty of Big Band/Large Ensemble have come my way this Summer––here's three of the best!

Arranger, conductor, composer, and educator Chuck Owen, with over four decades on the music scene, finally got to live a dream in late 2019 when he flew over to Germany to record with the WDR Big Band.  He was hoping to record new pieces with the ensemble but the sessions were moved up. Instead, he "reimagined" three of his original works, arranged three pieces by members of the WDRBB, and brought over arrangements of the Frank Sinatra/Tommy Dorsey classic "This Love of Mine" (1941) and Chick Corea's "Arabian Nights" (from 2007's "The Ultimate Adventure").  Over the course of the eight song, 73-minute, program, the music not surprisingly displays the talents of one of Europe's most accomplished ensembles but also the intelligent, witty, arrangements of Mr. Owen.

The sessions were recorded before and during the Pandemic. Ms. Caswell made the initial journey and is guest soloist on two of the tracks including the achingly lovely "Of Mystery and Beauty" composed by WDR alto saxophonist Karolina Strassmeyer.  Watch below and listen how Owen's arrangement moves the brass and reeds around the solos. Bassist John Goldsby's evocative "Fall Calls" has a lovely melody line shared by alto and trombone (Ms. Strassmeyer and Andy Hunter)––nothing is rushed and you can almost hear the autumn leaves pirouetting down from the tree.  The Big Band kicks good and hard on Mr. Owen's "...And Your Point Is?"–thanks to the presence of organist Billy Test, the tunes sounds somewhat like Jimmy Smith and his large ensemble recordings on Verve. 

While it turned out that the sessions that created "Renderings" were a hardship for those involved, the music triumphs.  If you are an aficionado of Big Bands, you already know how good the WDR Big Band can be––thanks to the top-notch material and excellent arrangements from Chuck Owen, the large ensemble is at the top of its game––go listen.

To learn more about Chuck Owen and this album, go to  Do go to to learn more about the great German Big Band. 

Here's "Of Mystery and Beauty" with guest Sara Caswell:

Boston, MA-based pianist and composer Mehmet Ali Sanlikol has never been one to shy away from his Turkish roots (born in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1974)–over the course of five albums released on DUNYA Records in the past nine years, he has shown an affinity to large ensembles (with one exception, his 2021 trio date "An Elegant Ritual"). His main vehicle is Whatsnext?, a sprawling 20-person group that includes a three-person percussion section made up of the finest musicians in the Boston area.  "Turkish Hipster: Tales From Swing to Psychedelic" (the title tells the listener what to expect) is quite the trip. With guest artists such as Anat Cohen (clarinet), Miguel Zenón (alto saxophone), and Antonio Sanchez (drums), the music expands to take in the styles and influences of those musicians, with the composer and arranger finding ways to tell all the stories contained in the compositions. 

Photo: Eric Antoniou
The program opens with "A Capoeira Turca (Baia Havasi)" which blends Turkish and Brazilian rhythms plus the expressive and joyful clarinet of Ms. Cohen. Listen below and see if you can keep still––it's downright funky. The most ambitious piece on the album follows; "Times of the Turtledove" takes its form from classic Turkish music yet drummer Bertram Lehmann and bassist Fernando Huergo give the piece a more modern sound in the first part of the episodic work. A lovely melody played by the leader on ney flute supported by a simple percussive pattern gives away to the brass section's strong melodic interpretation of the theme. Mr. Zenón plays as part of the ensemble early in the piece and does not move out for a solo until nearly 10 minutes has passed.  The rhythm section dances beneath him before the horns and brass swell up leading to a powerful finish to his musical story.  All three of the guests plus the leader are celebrated by rapper Raydar Ellis on "The Boston Beat",  a funky hiphop tune that pulsates out of the speakers.

"Turkish Hipster: Tales From Swing to Psychedelic" closes with the three-part 21-minute "'Abraham' Suite".  Featuring Mr. Sanchez, the story is based on the patriarch Abraham's story seen through the lens of Islam; the piece was commissioned for the Jaazar Festival in Switzerland and also recorded with an international lineup of musicians including drummer Billy Cobham.  The composer expanded the arrangement for this more orchestral lineup.  It's a powerful piece with excellent musicianship and an impassioned vocal for Mr. Sanlikol. 

This splendid recording illuminates the many and varied talents of Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, especially in how he marshals his musical troops to create a work of beauty, power, and a bit of sassiness, one that will resonate for years to come.  For more information, go to  

To purchase this and other recordings from Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, go to

Here's the delightful opening track (featuring Anat Cohen):

Dr. Javier Nero, trombonist, composer, and arranger, has an impressive CV, one that encompasses his education at the Juilliard School and the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. He has played and recorded with numerous large ensembles, played in Broadway pit bands, and worked with artists such as Veronica Swift, trumpeter Brian Lynch, and pianist Shelly Berg (among many others).  He is currently the lead trombone for the U.S. Army Blues, an 18-member Big Band that plays concerts throughout Washington D.C.  In 2020, Outside In Music released his debut Septet album––"Freedom" featured all original material, band members included bassist Dion Kerr (Nicholas Payton, Marcus Strickland), saxophonist Melvin Butler (Brian Blade), and pianist Tal Cohen (Terence Blanchard) as well as numerous guests including the afore-mentioned Messrs. Lynch and Berg plus vocalist Lauren Desberg.

For his second Outside In Music album, "Kemet (The Black Land)", the ensemble is now billed as the Javier Nero Jazz Orchestra, 18 musicians (plus guests) strong. Most of the musicians are members of the U.S. Army Blues with a number of guest artists including Randy Brecker (trumpet), Warren Wolf (vibraphone), Sean Jones (trumpet), and others. The nine-song, 74 minute, program covers a wide swath of musical territory from blues to swing to lovely R'nB ballads to World Music.  The playing is uniformly (no military pun intended) excellent and the occasional use of vocals add a fuller feel to tunes such "One Day", the lovely Brazilian/African-flavored "Reflections on the Dark, Tranquil Water", and the title track.  "Reflections..." stands out for many reasons including the well-crafted melody, the handsome piano solo (Josh Richman), and the leader's silky-smooth melodic solo.  The folky African feeling "One Day" rides in on the acoustic guitar of Michael Kramer that leads to Dr. Nero's aspirational lyrics. After a soaring flute solo (Daniel Dickinson), there is a fine Chris Burbank trumpet solo with the assembled voices swirling around him.  Perhaps the prettiest tune on the album is the impressionistic ballad "Just Let Go", a soulful ballad with a handsome trombone solo from the leader and impressive arrangement for the horns and reeds (clarinets add quite a lovely touch

Listen below to "Nostalgic Haiku", a soulful song with powerful brass and great solos from Messrs. Brecker and Wolf.  The rhythm section, especially electric bassist Regan Brough and drummer Kyle Swan, create a strong pulse while the arrangement opens to smart section behind the soloists second chorus.  

The digital edition of "Kemet (The Black Land)" features two bonus tracks (pushing the total time of the album to 87 minutes!). Cole Porter's "It's Alright With Me" features the sweet voice of Christie Dashiell, a rollicking piano solo from Richman, and the excellent trumpet spot for Sean Jones (he spars with the vocalist).  The album closes with McCoy Tyner's "Contemplation" (off of the pianist's 1967 Blue Note Lp "The Real McCoy").  The leader creates a sturdy solo before Sean Jones digs into his wide-ranging solo. Richman (who's quite active on the Philadelphia scene) again delivers a fine solo which leads to the song's end and the program's finish.

Take your time to savor the music on "Kemet (The Black Land)", listen to the arrangements, to the excellent section work, to the fine solos, and to the music.  Javier Nero has certainly put his heart and soul into this recording, gathering his musician friends to help tell all these stories.  There's a lot to here to contemplate as well as pieces that just ask to tap your feet or clap your hands.  Dr. Nero's music has expanded exponentially since his 2020 debut and one expects/hope he continues to mature as a composer, arranger, and musician.

To find out more, go to  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to

Here's "Nostalgic Haiku" (featuring guests Randy Brecker and Warren Wolf):

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