Scottish National Jazz Orchestra – American Adventure

american adventure(Spartacus Records STS018)

If there is one British band that really can rise to the brassy heights of big city USA it is this one. In June last year the band went into the Avatar studios in New York and were joined there by a whole host of American friends: guitarist Mike Stern, saxophonists Dave Liebman, Donny McCaslin Bill Evans and Joel Frahm, trumpeter Randy Brecker, trombonist Michael Dease, vibes player Joe Locke, drummer Clarence Penn, pianist David Kikoski and singer Kurt Elling.

The whole thing kicks off mightily with Stern in searing form against a big band arrangement of one of his old boss, Miles’ later warhorses: Marcus Miller’s Splatch. SNJO drummer Alyn Cosker and the massed horns manage to hang in there to the end.

Elling has a special relationship with the band and it shows in the way they envelope him in a warm hug on Mingus’s Duke Ellington’s Sound Of Love. It’s a tune that has always been a favourite of SNJO maestro Tommy Smith, too, giving the title to his ’98 ballads album, and he makes sure his tenor is sounding its fruitiest for his brief and only solo on the album.

Things get really bedded in with Wayne Shorter’s Yes Or No, in a lovely Fred Sturm arrangement with Locke the soloist. The band is sounding just fabulous: big, beefy and bold when they need to be, and effortlessly swinging and graceful without ever overpowering the soloist, who turns in a particularly lovely, precise solo.

Tommy Smith and the band at Avatar.

Tommy Smith and the band at Avatar.

Pendulum might not be quite boast such an impressive tune or arrangement, but the marvellous Donny McCaslin always gives me good reason to cheer out loud – a master of the jazz orchestra solo, as he shows with Maria Schneider and here.

Kikoski is particularly effective on the intro to John Coltrane’s Dear Lord, which then has a gorgeous flowing arrangement for the horns from Geoffrey Keezer, while Smith’s arrangement of Chick Corea’s Quartet No. 1 (Part 2) gives Bill Evans a chance to show his own interpretation of a role that was filled by the late Michael Brecker on Corea’s Three Quartets album. The band in monster mode!

The closer is another Shorter tune, Pinocchio, and guest drummer Clarence Penn is its star.

Apart from all the great music that flows from the speakers, what is also almost tangible is the air of excitement felt by these Scottish musicians being in New York and recording with many of their heroes. This is what a dream come true sounds like.

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