Friday, August 17, 2012

Friedrich Gulda Big Band Music

"The jazz greats, along with Bach and Mozart, shall be my role models" -- Friedrich Gulda

One of the problems of contemporary jazz scene, and even jazz fandom, is a certain negligence toward modern big bands of the 1960s and 1970s, especially those assembled in Europe. While the swing big bands of the 1930s and 1940s, and the small-combo jazz of the post-war era enjoy a wide public recognition by being constantly reissued, great European big bands stay alone on the dusty shelves of the old vinyl shops - sacred items for a small bunch of people who want to explore the beauty of modern classical-oriented jazz charts by those European artists who were sharing a same language as the American jazz expatriates.

The 2010 release of Friedrich Gulda Big Band Music brings one of the golden eras of the European big band to the digital age. This double-CD presents Viennese pianist, composer, conductor and arranger Friedrich Gulda (1930-2000) and his big bands from 1962 to 1972.

I've already mused about Gulda, one of the most fascinating, and still enigmatic, classical/jazz musicians of the last century by focusing his energetic original, Teheran. But some facts always worth repeating:

Friedrich Gulda playing baritone

As a classically trained composer under Joseph Marx, Gulda gave his debut concert when he was 14. In 1950 his first American concert took place at the legendary Carnegie Hall. Soon after this US visit he started playing some swinging jazz and organized jazz groups of his own. By 1955 Gulda and fellow Viennese Joe Zawinul started the Austrian All Stars to perform in a radio show called Jazz for Insiders. In 1956 he returned to the States to lead a seven-piece band at Birdland jazz club in New York City.

Now, thanks to these first-time-on-CD tracks, I find his post 1956 jazz compositions even more interesting and incredibly sophisticated. First date on the new CD, from 1962, is a suite for piano and orchestra which sounds as fantastic as the best big bands of its time. The up-tempo and medium-tempo pieces from the 1962 session are full of new textures and colors. The orchestra roars, but it is never loud, only exhilarating.

This is the kind of big band I'm talking about:

You saw and heard, on trumpet Benny Bailey and probably Kenny Wheeler (whose upcoming concert with Jam Hall in London Jazz Festival is one of the exciting news in town) on the top right; Trombone section was divided between Harry Roche and Rudolf Josel; Herb Geller (?), the fiery Tubby Hayes and Rolf Kühn were reedmen; Pierro Cavalli played guitar; Ron Carter seemed to be on bass (corrections please!) and of course, Mel Lewis on drums.

The next line-up in Gulda Big Band is from Eurojazz Orchester of 1965 with great soloist such as Freddie Hubbard, J. J. Johnson and Sahib Shihab. This part is recorded in southwestern Germany.

J. J. Johnson and Friedrich Gulda

By 1972, while giving joint concerts with Weather Report, Gulda recorded another big band album, Midlife Harvest (MPS/Universal) which was actually a re-recording of the old compositions with a new band. And this time the name of soloist and collaborators are colossal: Benny Bailey, Jiggs Whigham (whose last year's homage to Stan Kenton at the Royal Albert Hall was no less than rediscovery of Kenton for me), Phil Woods, Herb Geller, Pepper Adams (greatest post-Carney baritone-player ever?) and Ron Carter.

Whether Gulda engages flute solos in a Mozart-like context to accompany jazz orchestra, or unyieldingly provokes the band to the highest moments of emotional eruption, he sounds swinging and real. "If it swings, it's good; if it isn't, it's bad, or at least superfluous," says Gulda, or to be more accurate, re-phrase Ellington's slogan to explain his skilful combination of the Viennese touch and the world of masters of swing.

The album is available for download via German Amazon, but because of the superb sound quality and liner notes, the actual CD is highly recommended.

1 comment:

  1. While living for several years in Ontario, Heather was involved on the Board of the Rotary Burlington Fall Music Festival,