Label/Year: Mama Records, 2017
Lineup includes – Mats Holmquist: composition, arrangements; Randy Brecker: trumpet; Dick Oatts: alto and soprano saxophone; Magnus Wiklund: trombone; Karlis Vanags: soprano saxophone; Gints Pabersz: tenor saxophone; Viktors Ritovs: piano; Edvins Ozols: bass; Artis Orubs: drums.
Admired Swedish composer/arranger demonstrated a huge musical sensitivity on his previous record A Tribute To Herbie + 1, in which he invited the saxophonist Dick Oatts to co-lead his New York Jazz Orchestra.
This time, with Big Band Minimalism, things are different. Although counting on the saxophonist for the great part of the improvisations, Holmquist adds veteran trumpeter Randy Brecker to extemporize ideas and ensures a sturdy support from the Latvian Radio Big Band.
The opening piece, “The Girl in the Tree”, is divided into three sections. The first one kicks in with overlapping horn-driven layers, suddenly discontinued so the bassist speaks briefly and freely until being fetched by the pianist. Catchy melodies and cyclic harmonic progressions integrate until entering in section two. Here, a renewed rhythm takes a more funk orientation, bearing a competent trombone solo by Magnus Wiklund on its arms. Section three gives us back the beautiful harmonies that now accommodate potent horn blows atop.
A gracious walking bass advances on “The Same Old Song”, a 4/4 mid-tempo piece that vibrates with punchy melodic lines over the emancipated fluidity offered up by the rhythm section. Oatts and Brecker accessed the desired space for individual statements with relish, repeating the dose on a couple of tunes dedicated to and inspired by the minimal music pioneer Steve Reich. They are “Stevie R.”, which also appeared in Holmquist’s previous album and brims with conversational loop-like phrases surrounded by friendly pop/rock atmospheres, and “To The Bitter End”, a 6/4 fantasy that progressively liberates, ending up in a sort of military melodic cadence led by trombone.
“Friends & Enemies” calls immediately our attention to a battle between the horn players and the drummer. They fight for the leadership with loud ostentation until an eventual sonic boom and before a smoother rhythm takes over, definitely imposing the ceasefire. The harmonic progression, a contrafact on Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments, sustains a hefty improvisation by Oatts on soprano.
“A Quick Ride in a Jazz Mobile” starts as a ternary woodwind feast that becomes denser as other instruments introduce minimalist short phrases. Flowing with a steady backbeat, this number benefits with a stirring intervention from the Latvian Big Band and the pair of soprano solos by Brecker and Karlis Vanags.
The minimalist concept used by Holmquist has powerful repercussions in the reverberation and fascination of the sound. The tasteful arrangements were given excellent treatment by the group of musicians on board of a vessel that navigates with a remarkable sense of orientation.
03 - Friends & Enemies ► 06 - A Quick Ride in a Jazz Mobile ► 07 - To The Bitter End