THE STATURE of this grooooving big band release from trumpeter, flugelhornist and composer Gerard Presencer has been building (for this reviewer) across a period of weeks – and now blazes in all its glory.
A cursory listen might suggest ‘light’ or ‘smooth’ jazz – which, on a surface level, could be understandable. But when the abundant arrangements and instrumental precision contained within these 53 minutes firmly take root, Groove Travels begins to blossom into an impressive big band album for the here and now, infused with collected world rhythms and sumptuous, often striking harmonic detail. London-born Presencer’s credentials, over the years, boast a raft of big names (including work with Stan Tracey, Herbie Hancock, Clark Tracey, Johnny Dankworth, Chick Corea, Charlie Watts, Peter King) and he identifies the big band environment as “an inspiring and nurturing place to meet and play for improvising musicians.”
With all that strength of experience, Gerard Presencer absorbs the subject of this album at will, his international journeyings capturing the cultural grooves that form the bases of these extended works. On this, his fourth solo album, the majority are his original compositions; but he and the Danish Radio Big Band (with whom he has established a fruitful working relationship over a number of years) also throw oblique light on Wayne Shorter, Lennon & McCartney and Billy Nichols (if you’re struggling with that last one, begin recalling the 1970s chart hits of Leo Sayer!).
The leader’s interpretations of ‘groove’ are remarkably varied – from spacious, slow-burning Another Weirdo (which provides the ground for his mellifluous, echoic flugelhorn extemporisations) to the stateside funk-drive of Blues for Des, where superb canonic horn cascades accompany Shorteresque tenor fluidity and that unmistakable flugel mobility; nine minutes which brim with restless vigour and more than a hint of Freddie Hubbard. A soft bossa – Ballad or Tango of the Misunderstood – is characterised by the sublime, dreamy rise and fall of dazed horn textures (though with a somewhat abrupt closing fade), whilst Devil’s Larder‘s bold guitar riff is accentuated by Hammond and fabulous sax ensemble work, frequently hitting a dazzling saturation of colour – certainly a cinematic big band thriller.
In selecting and arranging Lennon & McCartney’s familiar Eleanor Rigby, any immediate impression of muzak is quickly dispelled by its infectious, ticking momentum; and Presencer’s voluble flugel is enhanced by jabbing Fender Rhodes, George Benson-style guitar and waves of gutsy brass. Istanbul Coffee Cup‘s mysterious rhythmic pulse (noted down in a restaurant in the Turkish capital) oscillates dramatically with swirling, cacophonous brilliance, whilst Wayne Shorter’s evergreen Footprints evokes, here, the San Francisco streetscapes of Ironside and Kojak through its myriad horn dissonances, rasping trombone clusters, clattering percussion and luxurious solo lines.
And that top ten hit? – well, for all hopeless romantics out there, I Can’t Stop Loving You meltingly ebbs and flows to Presencer’s soft trumpet lead and richly-conceived harmonies, elevating it high above its trite, teen-crush origins (plus a self-declared nod to the great Kenny Wheeler at its close).
Dig into the detail of this album, and the combined eloquence of Gerard Presencer and the Danish Radio Big Band becomes increasingly evident.
Released worldwide on 29 January 2016, Groove Travels is available from Edition Records’ Bandcamp page as CD, limited edition 12″ vinyl and high-quality download.
Gerard Presencer flugelhorn, trumpet
Danish Radio Big Band:
Michael Mølhede trumpet
Christer Gustafsson trumpet
Thomas Kjærgaard trumpet
Jens Chr. Gotholdt trumpet
Vincent Nilsson trombone
Steen Hansen trombone
Anders Larson trombone
Ola Nordquist trombone
André Jensen tuba, bass trombone
Nicolai Schultz alto saxophone
Peter Fuglsang soprano saxophone
Pelle Fridell soprano saxophone
Hans Ulrik Jensen tenor saxophone
Karl-Martin Almqvist tenor saxophone
Anders Gaardmand tenor saxophone
Per Gade guitar
Kaspar Vadsholt double and electric basses
Søren Frost drums
Henrik Gunde Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ, synths
with special guests:
Adam Rapa lead trumpet
Eliel Lazo percussion
Edition Records – EDN1065 (2016)