It probably shouldn’t come as too much a surprise that after a recent review in which I remarked on what I hoped might be a renaissance of the big band, what should arrive in the mail but another excellent album of big band music, Bernt Rosengren Big Band. This is a 19-piece band put together by Swedish composer/arranger and saxophonist Rosengren and featuring American expatriates Horace Parlan, a pianist who had played with Charles Mingus, and guitarist Doug Raney. Otherwise, with the exception of trumpeter Tim Hagans, the band is made up of top-tier Swedish musicians.
“Big band jazz”, as Rosengren explains in the liner notes (which terrifyingly begin with 11 pages in Swedish before what I assume is a nine-page English translation, “should be swinging and danceable.” It should, he goes on, “be built around soloists like the old Count Basie band of the 1930s,” not a bad ideal to aspire to. It is the dynamic interaction between a creative soloist and a tight ensemble working together under the pleasant restraint of dance rhythms that is one of the hallmarks of the great big bands. That’s not to say it is the only hallmark—there is after all the Duke Ellington mode,l with “symphonic” pieces like Such Sweet Thunder. It is nonetheless a musical aesthetic, as Rosengren’s album makes clear, worth nurturing.
Most all of the solo work on the album comes from Raney, Parlan, and Rosengren on tenor and alto sax, as well as flute on one track. The only other soloist recognized in the notes is trumpeter Lars Färnlöf, who does some nice work playing over the rest of the band in Rosengren’s “New Life,” one of seven Rosengren originals on the album. It, along with tunes like “Blues Nerves” and “Autumn Song,” could well remind you of the old Count Basie sound. His “Joe and Eye” has a Latin dance vibe featuring the composer on the flute. “The Humming Bees” comes closer to a more modern bop sound while “Sad Waltz” could well have been written for one of those top flight ’30s swing bands. The album opens with “Hip Walk” and some interesting guitar work from Raney.
Besides the Rosengren originals, there are two other pieces. They do a swinging version of the Irving Berlin classic “How Deep is the Ocean?” which features Parlan’s piano both in front of the band and alone with the rhythm section. It is a stellar arrangement of the standard. The other piece is a dynamic treatment of John Coltrane’s “Naima” which highlights, as you might expect, some nice work on the sax.
Taken as a whole Bernt Rosengren Big Band is an album that will please fans of big band music with its patented combination of dynamite arrangements and skillful solos. If it gets the kind of attention it deserves, it is likely to do its share in converting new audiences to the cause.