Vince Mendoza & WDR Big Band Cologne - Homecoming
(Jazzline N77036. CD Review by Peter Bacon)
We know the WDR is a fine band, so exemplary ensemble playing with striking soloists is to be expected. But the compositional and arranging skill that the Connecticut-born Vince Mendoza - former Metropole Orchestra MD, arranger to everyone from Joe Zawinul to Joni Mitchell and resultant multi-Grammy winner - brings to the party lifts the band up further into the sumptuous fertile high grounds of jazz orchestra land.
Homecoming is the right title, for it was with the Cologne band that Mendoza added further big band wallop to the already punchy Zawinul material for the album Brown Street, and he has done various other projects with them as guest arranger. It's a very happy reunion.
Here the tunes are all Mendoza's own, and they have all those characteristic Mendoza elements: cinematic breadth, emotional tug, funkiness, classical structure, romance, wit, Latin tang.
The opener, Keep It Up, is a happy coalescence of soul-funk for the rhythm boys John Goldsby on fat bass guitar, Hans Dekker on drums and Marcio Doctor as guest percussionist, with expert big band writing over it and searing solos from guitarist Paul Shigihara and tenor saxophonist Paul Heller.
Little Voice does something that is special to Mendoza - the ability to construct a thoroughly satisfying piece of music without any clear, strong melody, reliant on gossamer light suggestions of a tune while strong on atmosphere and harmonic richness. There is one falling chord change which never fails to bring a catch in the chest, it’s so exquisitely sad.
Choros #3 has the Latin groove allied to soaring orchestral parts blossoming around Andy Hunter's trombone solo, with a fugue-like finale The title tune has all the loping, cruising, travelling 6/8 rhythm of a hope-filled homeward journey - the cover gives an establishing shot and it's easy to add the rest of the movie in one's mind's eye.
Also worth noting throughout the album is the marvellous pliancy of the band’s dynamic range and control of push and pull, which is built into Mendoza’s expert arrangements but is given full effect by the virtuosity of the band.
Recorded live over two nights in 2014, other standout soloists are Karolina Strassmayer on alto saxophone, John Marshall on trumpet and Frank Chastenier on piano, but for me it’s the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts with the WDR, especially when playing Vince Mendoza’s exquisite music.
LJN will be publishing an interview with WDR Big Band trombonist Shannon Barnett for International Women's Day 2017