Following a Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble with the Stereo and Multichannel DSD recording of Homage to Count Basie (also available from NativeDSD), Bob Mintzer lays down a totally new attitude for his big band comprised of New York’s finest musicians.
Gently is yet another big band project that will turn some heads with a sound and approach that is virtually nonexistent today in the jazz world. Gently addresses the quieter side of big band music. Granted to find the words “quiet” and “big band” in the same sentence is unheard of. But the softer, more textured “cool burn” concept in this music proves otherwise. Clarinets and flutes have replaced saxophones on several of the tunes, while the brass make use of mutes on most of the songs.
Tom Jung has been after me to do a soft and more textural big band recording for many years. After working with Tom for 18 years I finally figured out what he was getting at.
I’m a bit of a slow learner at times. I think also I’ve reached a point in my life where I can appreciate the subtly factor in music and in life, where -I would just as soon be gently caressed rather than smacked with a large stick.
Gently is exactly what the title suggests: a gentle approach to the big band instrumentation, using clarinets and flutes in place of saxophones, muted brass, the addition of french horns on two numbers, and writing for the band in a range and style which projects a soothing, warm sound.
This is not to say that there isn’t intensity in the music. What I’ve discovered is that when music is played softly it sounds more intense and projects with a greater clarity and energy. The band actually sounds louder when it plays softer.
Couple this softer approach with Tom Jung’s cutting edge DSD recording prowess, and you have a recording that envelops the listener in such a way that it feels like you are sitting in the middle of the band, and wanting to do so. Every time I listen to this recording, I marvel at how it soothes rather than irritates.
The other major determining factor in the sound of Gently is the high level of teamwork and musicianship in the band These guys know how to be on the team, and blend with an amazing amount of sensitivity and insight. It is easy to play loud, yet much more difficult to play softly with the cognizance of where your notes go in the greater picture.
— Bob Mintzer
Lawrence Feldman, Alto Sax & Flute
Pete Yellin, Alto Sax
Charles Pillow, Alto Sax & Flute
Bob Malach, Tenor Sax & Flute
Bob Mintzer, Tenor Sax & Flute
Roger Rosenberg, Baritone Sax & Clarinet
Bob Millikan, Trumpet & Flugelhorn
Frank Greene, Trumpet & Flugelhorn
Michael Phillip Mossman, Trumpet & Flugelhorn
Scot Wendholt, Trumpet & Flugelhorn
Jim Seeley, Trumpet & Flugelhorn
Keith O’Quinn, Tenor Trombone
Michael Davis, Tenor Trombone
Larry Farrell, Tenor Trombone
David Taylor, Bass Trombone
John Clark, French Horn
Fred Griffin, French Horn
Peter Erskine, Drums
Jay Anderson, Bass
Phil Markowitz, Piano
Total time: 00:56:51
EMM Labs Crypton Solid Copper
EMM Labs A/D & D/A Converters designed by Ed Meitner
Tom Caulfield (DSD 64 to DSD 128, DSD 256 Transfer)
Signalyst HQ Player Pro 4 Mastering Tools (DSD 128, DSD 256)
Earthworks 1024 & Sequerra 1078
Shure KSM32 & KSM141
The Multichannel DSD recording is 5 Channel – LF, CF, RF, LS, RS
|Original Recording Format|
Bob Mintzer & Tom Jung
Tom Jung assisted by Mark Conese
Ambient Recording, Stamford, CT on April 25, 26 & 27
Sony Sonoma 8 Channel DSD Workstation
|Recording Type & Bit Rate||
Mark Conese, Joe Corsello, David Kawakami & Gus Skinas
|Release Date||October 23, 2020|
What caught my ear was the purity of the Big Band vibe that came from a single piece, “Gently,” the title track. I could hear that this group nailed the true spirit of the soulful, swinging Big Band sound in all its complexity and lightness, elegance, and truth.
Were it not for the pristine digital recording mix, I would certainly have believed I was listening to a piece from the middle fifties; something blessed by the caresses of the passing angel of Duke Ellington, perhaps, but not strictly speaking. Then I detected a time jump into an era reminiscent of the horn section in Nat Adderley’s late 1960’s gorgeous sessions which clearly inspired much of the bopping scores heard in those superb early 1970’s TV shows and movies – Lalo Shifrin style.
I initially purchased the album expecting to never hear another track like the one that caught my ear, but lo and behold, to my surprise, I fell head first into a full album whose treasures took me beyond all my highest expectations. Every track burst with unpredictable extensions of all the goods that the teaser I first heard intimated. Bob Mintzer’s Big Band is a dream come true. It’s not only music like they don’t make anymore, it’s also music they never quite made before… Music that’s anchored in a tradition which is hard for me to name, but which I know, with infinite certainty, belongs to a universe of total melodic integrity, beyond the conscious, intellectual mind.
I became lost in Gently. Unable to stop playing it in loops, for days on end.
Gently is a true tribute to a spirit of an era in our psyche which exists outside of time, yet, is very real in the collective understanding we hold of our cultural history.
It makes little sense to try and describe the tunes on this album, but it seems important to mention that the journey wraps with a delicate and tapering, deeply soulful, perhaps even mournful quartet, that breathes softly, like an old man sitting on a porch watching a gathering storm.
This album is a journey. I hope I encouraged you to take it for a spin. You will not be disappointed!
What an attractive concept for a big band session! Mintzer’s note booklet essay talks about how we are living in a loud world, and how big bands can be unbelievably loud when playing at full tilt. He feels that at this stage in his life he better appreciates the subtle approach and decided on a gentler instrumentation – using clarinets and flutes in place of saxes, muting the brass and added French horns in a couple numbers. He says he discovered that often the more softly playing music had greater clarity and energy than the loud sounds, or to quote: “The band actually sounds louder when it plays softer.”
The warm and more classically leaning sound reminded me of the Claude Thornhill Band (he was the first to integrate French horns into his sound), as well as some of the arrangements of Gil Evans, Don Sebesky and Claus Ogermann. Of course, if this session was recorded at the technical level of that recent Count Basie mono reissue on Classic Records – a crude in your-face sound that was OK for high-impact Basie – the subtlies would be lost completely.
After working with Mintzer’s bands for 18 years, Tom Jung knows exactly how to capture the sounds of all 20 players in Stereo and Multichannel DSD with the utmost transparency and realism. The eight tracks include a number of Mintzer originals plus a Thad Jones classic and a very lush Body and Soul. The album puts the sax section back in the spotlight for the closing track, which is an arrangement of a movement from a Saxophone Quartet Mintzer composed earlier for an ensemble at the University of Kentucky.
Bob Mintzer’s latest big-band release (and 12th album for DMP) is an experiment in volume, or lack of same. He has assembled a 20-piece organization to prove a point stated in his liner notes: “Big bands can be unbelievably loud…the sax section sits in front of the brass typically. When the brass section plays loud it can sound like your head is inside a jet engine.” Mintzer should know. He’s been sticking his head as well as his reeds and flutes in that jet engine since the early ’70s.
Which is why he leads off with the title tune, a pianissimo swinger, substituting flutes and clarinets for saxes and keeping the brass and rhythm hushed while he, on tenor, and trumpeter Scott Wendholt make solo statements without clutter or competition in the background. The same gloved approach is taken for the bossa nova “Timeless.” Thanks to Peter Erskine’s drums and Jay Anderson’s bass, there is no loss of propulsion, however, and with two French horns added to the woodwinds mix, certainly no loss of color.
The longest track, “Body and Soul,” is a fine stretch-out vehicle for Mintzer, who guides his tenor through some Gil Evans lushness with inventive changes. There is also a quiet, introspective movement from Mintzer’s Quartet #2 for Saxophones (he has also composed a number of jazz etudes), but honestly, the most successful tracks are “Who’s Walkin’ Who?” and “Bright Lights” because they build in, yes, volume!
But don’t misconstrue, Bob; go forth gently. It’s a noble experiment.
The Bob Mintzer Big Band has been a part-time affair for the past 18 years, but somehow the orchestra always manages to sound like a regularly working band.
The premise behind Gently was to have the Mintzer Big Band playing at a lower volume, with lyrical arrangements by the leader, along with a greater use of muted brass and flutes. However the orchestra still romps in places and the tempos vary.
The big band (which boasts impressive musicianship) features solos from Mintzer on tenor, trumpeters Scott Wendholt, and Michael Mossman, trombonist Michael Davis, pianist Phil Markowitz, altoist Pete Yellin and others, with drummer Peter Erskine driving the ensembles. The solo improvisations grow logically out of the arrangements, showing that Mintzer is expert at writing for specific soloists.
Among the high points are the title cut (a harmonically advanced medium-tempo blues), “Body and Soul,” Thad Jones’ “Don’t Ever Leave Me,” and “Who’s Walking Who” (one of Mintzer’s six originals). The closing “Saxophone Quartet #2” is a complete change of pace, part of a suite that Mintzer wrote for four saxophones backed by Erskine.
There are times when the Bob Mintzer Big Band sounds a bit like the orchestras of Gil Evans, Thad Jones-Mel Lewis, or Don Sebesky, but in general it displays its own personality thanks to the writing and solos of Bob Mintzer. Fans of modern big bands who enjoy hearing thoughtful music will want this set.
All About Jazz
Bob Mintzer, who is known to favor fiery Latin rhythms and big-band charts with an abundance of punch and power, has a softer side too. One that is laid bare on this understated but no less invigorating new release, his fourteenth (or fifteenth? I’ve lost count) on the dmp label.
‘I think I’ve… reached a point,’ Mintzer writes, ‘where I can appreciate the subtlety factor in music and in life, where I would just as soon be gently caressed rather than smacked with a large stick.’ With that in mind, Mintzer says, he designed his latest album as ‘a gentle approach to big-band instrumentation, using clarinets and flutes in place of saxophones; muted brass; the addition of French horns on two numbers, and writing for the band in a range and style [that] projects a soothing, warm sound.’
The climate is especially sultry on Mintzer’s ballad feature, Johnny Green’s ‘Body and Soul,’ which he calls ‘every tenor’s measuring stick’ (except for Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras, of course), while the reed section (deftly backed by drummer Peter Erskine’s improvised counterpoint) is front and center on the gossamer ‘Saxophone Quartet #2’ (middle movement), written for Miles Osland’s talented undergrads at the University of Kentucky.
Less heated tempos, however, don’t necessarily denote an absence of warmth; Mintzer’s concept, gentle as it is, can still stir one’s blood, thanks to his seductive charts, shapely solos by such old hands as trumpeter Scott Wendholt and Michael Phillip Mossman, alto saxophonists Pete Yellin and Charles Pillow, soprano Lawrence Feldman, tenor Bob Malach, baritone Roger Rosenberg, trombonists Larry Farrell and Keith O’Quinn, pianist Phil Markowitz and bassist Jay Anderson, and unremitting support from the ever-reliable Erskine.
‘Timeless’ unveils a bossa-style Brazilian fa’ade, while ‘Who’s Walkin’ Who’ (inspired by Mintzer’s labrador retrievers, Davis and Yosemity) is a softly ambling blues and ‘Bright Lights,’ written in ’92 for his small group, the Yellowjackets, a funky shuffle that opens calmly and builds to a less-than-muted climax. “This one was hard to play soft,’ Mintzer writes, ‘but I think we got it.’ They did.
‘Gently,’ inspired by Gil Evans, is an unassuming 4 / 4 swinger (with more perceptive work by Erskine) that uses woodwinds and cup-muted brass to state its theme, Thad Jones’ ‘Don’t Ever Leave Me’ a winsome ballad that Mintzer says he’s always wanted to record. Gently is a conspicuous change of pace for the usually upbeat Mintzer, but one that underlines his structural resourcefulness and never fails to please. Easily recommended.
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