While reviewing files when I last cleaned out my computer hard drive, I found that between 1995 and 2012 I wrote roughly 200 compositions or arrangements for large jazz ensembles. I also found that most of this hadn’t really been documented properly [loose ends] — something I usually take care of much earlier. There have been the off-and-on recordings with various radio and university big bands, but those have usually been done hastily and with limited expectations. In January 2012, I decided that this had to change. I wanted to assemble a band of young, energetic musicians [loose ends] mixed with a nice dose of reliable old friends [ties] and write some thrilling new music just for them… –Florian Ross, liner notes
In his most recent recording, Florian Ross and his Big Company jazz big band drops little surprises throughout the mostly original, contemporary/traditional compositions. After noticing a lot of old music for a big band lying around on his computer hard drive, Ross got an idea for the next album, “Ties & Loose Ends.”
“While reviewing files when I last cleaned out my computer hard drive, I found that between 1995 and 2012 I wrote roughly 200 compositions or arrangements for large jazz ensembles,” he wrote in his album’s liner notes. “I also found that most of this hadn’t really been documented properly [loose ends] — something I usually take care of much earlier. There have been the off-and-on recordings with various radio and university big bands, but those have usually been done hastily and with limited expectations. In January 2012, I decided that this had to change. I wanted to assemble a band of young, energetic musicians [loose ends] mixed with a nice dose of reliable old friends [ties] and write some thrilling new music just for them…”
The veteran European pianist/composer also received some love from Harald Rehmann of Deutschlandfunk for the radio studio space, Kunststiftung NRW, Initiative Musik and GVL for the funding, Hrólfur Vagnsson, an old friend, who recorded Ross’ first album in 1998 and came through again for this most recent one January 14-18, 2013, and a host of talented musicians.
The musicians included “young, energetic” university students Ross picked out from a crowd based on their ability to play the music as written yet spice the notes up too with their own personality. “I prefer playing with people I don’t know well,” he said, in his EPK video. These young, energetic musicians did exactly what Ross had hoped they would. They played his very pianistic compositions with youthful, edgy, and fun abandon, leveling the accepted form of big band jazz. “Through my job at the Conservatoire I had a direct contact to many ex-students,” Ross said, and he’s glad he did.
Ross also employed a few musicians he did know and enjoy listening to, friends from way back, veterans who could take the Vince Mendoza/Jim McNeely vibe and run with it.
The full effect is that of McNeely’s pianistic, funny ideas uniting with Mendoza’s pastoral sound and colors. Florian Ross Big Company’s 11 tracks play light and easy, but contain enormous depth. Pulling off the tracks was enormously rewarding but no cake walk. Luckily, everyone was on the same page.
“It’s a summary of his musical work of the last years. ‘Who did I play with, who did I listen to?’ And also, that he doesn’t mind the age [of his musicians], but just decides, ‘Wow, he’s great, he fits the music,’” explained saxophonist Wolfgang Fuhr of Ross’ mindset on the progressive big band album.
A lot goes on in this Fuhrwerk Musik big band album, but at the heart of it all is this mix of individual precision and big band interplay. That was Florian Ross’ goal. He brought to life the songs he wrote for these musicians and found another way to interpret some of his favorites, two steeped in classical tradition (“Prelude from Tombeau de Couperin” by Maurice Ravel and “Une Larme” by Modest Mussorgsky).
Florian Ross loves the tapestry of piano. He weaves the chords so sweetly and romantically into any song he plays. It’s evident in his lovely and spare duets for piano and Hammond organ, “Front Room Songs” — and it’s patently charming in his arrangement of “Une Larme,” connecting the two points nicely. His love of classical music permeates this piece in a startling ballet of pianissimo surrender and saxophonic attack.
The saxophone section of Frank Vaganée, Christoph Möckel, Stefan Schmid, Wolfgang Fuhr, and Marcus Bartelt really goes to town on Ross’ pieces, and he wisely sits back and lets them.
“Doors Closed” is a wild ride through careening guitars and suave horns. The sax and guitar solos by Bartelt and Phillipp Brämswig pack a wallop, inviting musical comparisons to noteworthy contemporary American jazz-rock fusion artists Steely Dan, Robben Ford, and Weather Report, as well as be-bop trailblazers Max Roach, James Moody, and Thelonious Monk on steroids. The entire premise winds down on a high, ghostly but demonic note, impossibly up against this heaven-scent, classical orchestral finish, as the rock fusion crashes down. Insane.
Dig the avant-garde crunch and squeal of strings on “Tombeau de Couperin: Prelude,” conjuring up a mental march of death zombies as the ground swelling of the rest of the horn section, on top of earthy sax, angular percussion hitting that off-beat with an Afro-Cuban swag completely staring down the formidable prelude.
Other honorable mentions: “Meditation In D” oozes warm tones, Vaganée jumps the piano in fine-dining “Prickly Pear,” and “Eleanor” is a hip-hop-meets-big-band genius move, auto-tuning (is that Eleanor Roosevelt?) a starched woman’s speech to some boss grooves.
Hat’s off to the the rest of Florian Ross’ Big Company: trumpeters Jan Schneider, Volker Deglmann, Menzel Mutzke, Matthias Bergmann, trombonists Klaus Heidenreich, Peter Schwatlo, Felix Fromm, Ingo Lahme, pianist Lucas Leidinger, bassist Dietmar Fuhr, and drummer Fabian Arends.
Then, there’s Florian Ross himself. No words. Other than… More, please.