Worried about the future of jazz? At a time when received wisdom has it that jazz has lost much of its shine, especially with the younger set, and seems destined for little more than a niche audience, jazz lovers would seem to have something real to worry about. Then along comes an album like Future Steps and you hear the work of the talented young musicians in what is called a Youth Jazz Orchestra. Then you know you needn’t worry. You can be sure that jazz is alive and well and it’s living in Switzerland.
Young, middle aged, elderly, these cats can play. That, in fact their ages run from 16 to 26, belies the pessimism of received wisdom. There is clearly budding jazz talent ready to bloom. Indeed, if the 2014 live concert at Aarau is any indication, it has already flowered. Future Steps is a “Bandstand Learning with Role Models” project, where the young musicians serve as apprentices working with professionals. Playing with guest artists like trumpeter Randy Brecker, vibraphonist Mike Mainieri, pianist Christian Jacob, and drummer Rodney Holmes, it is often difficult to hear the difference between the neophytes and the veterans. To be clear, the youngsters handle much of the solo work alongside the guest talent.
The album’s nine tracks include eight original compositions written especially for the orchestra by its director, Fritz Renold in the style of the ‘80s jazz fusion band Steps Ahead. The concert’s final piece is “Beirut,” a well-known Steps Ahead composition. They open with the album’s title song, where the featured solo work is credited to Jacob, Mainieri, saxophonist Markus Hauser, and Youth Orchestra member Silvan Schmid on trumpet. Youth guitarist Claude Stucki gets the solo credit along with Randy Brecker on the second track, “Alkapuri.” The central point is that if the liner notes didn’t indicate who was playing these solos, there is little to distinguish between youth and age.
Alto sax player Chris Sommer joins Manieri and Jacob to add some swinging solo work on “I Got Ilse” and Holmes has the spotlight on “A New Kind.” “Mandela,” the last of the Renold pieces has some bravura passages from Brecker as well as a fine tenor sax highlight from Christoph Huber.
This is an album with a truly excellent big band sound, ideal to calm any worries for the future of jazz.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00N654FMK]