CD Review: Florian Ross Big Company - Ties and Loose Ends



Florian Ross Big Company - Ties and Loose Ends 
(FUHRWERK-MUSIK FWM 010. CD review by Frank Griffith)

German pianist/composer Florian Ross' 2013 big band CD, "Ties and Loose Ends" is the latest of about twelve projects that he has released since 1998. These include groups ranging from piano trios all the way to much larger formations. This ensemble features a crack team of youngish German players boasting a rich bevy of soloists like saxophonists Stefan Schmid and Wolfgang Fuhr, trumpeter Matthias Bergmann, trombonist Felix Fromm and the scintillatingly fleet-fingered pianist,Lucas Leidinger.

Ross' composing, arranging and orchestrating skills for large ensemble are of the highest order and do not take a back seat to anyone. While clearly embracing a modernistic approach he also recognises the tradition with frequent nods to writers such as Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer and Claus Ogerman. While I was studying with Brookmeyer in 1989 he often spoke of the "cold beauty" of Germanic serialists like Berg, Webern and even Ogerman on the jazz side (check out his sweeping, yet cooly engaging orchestrations for Diana Krall's CD "Quiet Nights"). While attempting to describe music in words is not always effective or advisable I believe what Bob meant by "cold beauty" was a profoundly simple austerity in the sound - a coolness and sense of still that radiates an understated beauty of its own. This offers a welcome change to the overly lush and rhapsodically harmonised scorings that one associates with Hollywood films of the 1950s, for example. Nevertheless, this listener finds a certain amount of "cold beauty" in Florian's music that goes a long way to continuing this tradition.

While this recording is largely original works (eight along with three arrangments) I found the arrangements to be of particular interest as hearing a writer's treatments of other's music reveals more about their skills and personality than their own music. Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin:Prelude is not a piece that one would associate with big band but it comes off famously here. The relentless pianistic triplet figures are deftly delivered by the woodwinds and muted trumpets leading to Dietmar Fuhr's arco bass solo followed by an an agile tenor outing by his brother, Wolfgang. Similarly, Victor Young's My Foolish Heart closes the CD with a richly reharmonised treatment cloaked in a warmly tight orchestration. Just one chorus worth with bits of interludes and a coda with brief but effective solo commentaries by muted trombone and piano. Just the job. This sound culture bears echoes to Brookmeyer's "First Love Song" written thirty years ago for the Mel Lewis Orchestra which was no doubt influenced by Thad Jones' "To You", written in 1960 for Count Basie. Nothing new under the sun as they say and Ross's incorporating these traditions in 2013 is an all too healthy sign for the future of the music.

I also found Florian's Slow Motian a compelling listen as it featured the moodily glowing chalumeau clarinet of Stefan Schmid. This instrument with big band is often associated the 1930s and 40s Artie Shaw/Benny Goodman or Jimmy Hamilton with Ellington type of sound. Not the case here as Schmid's purring clarinet swoons loftily over and understated cloak of muted brass outlining post 1980s harmonies extended over long and open phrasings. Sublime stuff.

I met a young Florian Ross in 1996 while he was completing his postgraduate degree at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama when I was kindly invited there by then Head of Jazz, Scott Stroman, to visit a rehearsal. I was impressed of Florian's talent and potential then- the boy done good. Check out this recording to see why.

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