Global Excellence

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: TCB
PERFORMER: George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band
CATALOGUE NO: 21172 (distr. New Note)

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All-star big bands are rarely more than the sum of their parts: a useful gig for the players on the stand, they offer a nice package for fans and value-for-money sets which let you catch a glimpse of players who might only rarely be sighted as solo turns.

Maybe George Gruntz’s gang is, in and of itself, no more than an indulgence for the pianist-leader, who provides many of the charts and – as you’ll know, if you caught its boisterous London season earlier this year – all of the fulsome introductions.

But the current line-up, which set this studio date down just before its latest jaunt, offers a notably characterful team drawn from Europe and the US. Soloists come fizzing out of the tricky writing and there’s much enjoyment to be had from the skill which these failsafe pros use to negotiate their way through the scores.

‘Steam Passage’, for instance, sets up a faintly ludicrous unison motif for the three tenor saxes, which leads to a trio of sensationally effective improvisations.

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If Gruntz’s own music is sometimes over-smart, there are always the other pieces to settle into: Dave Bargeron’s clever manipulation of the Spanish tinge in ‘Valencia’, or Marvin Stamm’s handsome ‘Two as One’, which is as elegant a piece of ballad-playing as you’ll hear on a CD this year. Richard Cook