Concerts with Maria Schneider are something special. They are stylistically not only out of the ordinary, they also manage to bring large orchestras to perform artistically at high voltage, with an energy and at a creative level which is otherwise known only in much smaller ensembles. It is not the music alone that drives the participants, but rather the serene seriousness of a band leader who demands a maximum of intensity from her compositions and passes this premise on to their interpretation. It is impossible to conceive of compositions for jazz orchestras more stringently. The instrumentalists know this too, and therefore feel called upon not only to reproduce the charts accurately but to work out all the contained hints, implications, and visions of sound down to the deepest levels. This original recording was made in May 2000 when Schneider appeared alongside the SWR Big Band. And for the SWR Big Band, those days in May 2000 are some of the highlights of their orchestral history.
Stan Laferrière's Big One brings everything in jazz history back to life, from the first signs of ragtime to contemporary fusion in a tasty record you can qualify as one half tribute, one half stylistic exercise. Because while each title on the album is a Laferrière composition, they have that familiar sound which could turn them into standards as great the music they recall. Educational value, yes, but apart from any questions of period or style, this is a jazz orchestra combining power with nuance, and its precision makes it stand out thanks to Stan Laferrière's unique feel for arrangements and his skill in instrumentation.
Enoch Light (1905-1978) has long been recognized as one of the great innovators and musical masters in the use of Latin rhythms. With this adventurous spirit, Light was one of the first to explore the American potential of Latin rhythms. When the cha-cha came along, he had the background and the imagination to know how to give it the typically American presentation that was required to take it beyond the stiff, static treatment it was receiving at the time. Enoch Lights bossa nova treatment builds new fires in these familiar American tunes. At the same time, he gives the Brazilian pieces a volatile power that had never been exploited so imaginatively until this master, with the rhythm of his pulsating big band, brought his exciting, magic touch to them.
To approximate the first half of Fred Ho's album Year of the Tiger, it's necessary to imagine the sound that might be created if the members of Duke Ellington & His Orchestra were mixed with the players from Parliament/Funkadelic and set loose on the Michael Jackson and Jimi Hendrix catalogs. That's right, songs like "Thriller" and "Purple Haze" get severely retrofitted into an aggressive, irreverent jazz-funk style, with harsh, massed horn parts. Sometimes, the sound resembles a couple of high-school marching bands fighting it out on the same football field.