‘celebrating The Dark Side Of The Moon’ – Nguyên Lê / Michael Gibbs / NDR Bigband

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FOR ANY DIE-HARD Pink Floyd fan (arm held aloft here), the sight of a reinterpretation – a what?! – of their seminal 1973 colossus Dark Side Of The Moon might be met with an equal measure of trepidation and intrigue. After all, those of us whose teenage years were coloured by the thrill of ‘prog’ are likely to have this particular Gilmour, Waters, Wright & Mason album in their DNA, even to the very detail of guitar and vocal solos.

It’s been done before, of course – Ari Hoenig, The Flaming Lips, dubstep, reggae, string quartet, a cappella – and the initial signs here are particularly good: a concept fostered by Siggi Loch, on his go-ahead ACT label, with the venerable approval of Nick Mason and featuring dynamic guitarist Nguyên Lê (who has recorded exclusively with ACT for some time now, including collaborations with Pete Erskine and Michael Bonita). The anticipation, excitement and validity of this seemingly-audacious venture is further raised by the personnel involved – the renowned NDR Bigband realising the orchestrations of respected British composer, arranger and band leader Michael Gibbs, joined by Youn Sun Nah (vocals), Gary Husband (drums) and Jürgen Attig (fretless bass).

For this jazz/rock ‘celebration’, Nguyên Lê arranges all nine (or ten) numbers from the original, as well as weaving-in five self- and co-written Floyd-inspired miniatures. The transitions are remarkably organic, and Gibbs’ big band orchestrations frequently breathtaking, but how well do these familiar tracks translate into this new guise?

Heralded by the electronic cross-conversations of Speak To Me and Lê’s similarly impressionistic Inspire, the big vocal of Breathe is presented soulfully by Youn Sun Nah against a wall of big band splendour. Following on, the panicky momentum of On The Run is expertly effected by Jürgen Attig’s bass and Christof Lauer’s swirling soprano until, waking to radio-controlled timepieces, Time is cleverly reimagined, announced by Gary Husband’s thunderous toms and powerful big band blasts. There’s a tendency for Gilmour’s originally-relaxed, oscillating semitone lines to somehow become mechanical, even monotonous, in this arrangement, and Youn Sun Nah’s later lyric entry appears an unnecessary add-on. But, otherwise, it rocks to Lê’s distinctively complex guitar improvisations and electronics.

Magic Spells and the charming marching band-like Hear This Whispering (both from the pen of the guitarist) precede a dazzling adaptation of The Great Gig In The Sky, Clare Torry’s classic, impassioned (and presumably improvised) ’70s vocal imitated incredibly accurately by the blistering big band. That transcription is so satisfying, and all too brief, though segued by Jürgen Attig’s luxuriant, Jacoesque fretless bass and Nguyên Lê’s impossibly rapid guitar runs in Gotta Go Sometime.

The timeless 7/4 ‘prog’ wonder of Roger Waters’ Money translates magnificently here into super-funky, clav-driven brilliance, Gary Husband’s heavy-yet-bejewelled drums and percussion ringing through it as a golden thread; and the incisive rhythmic urgency in the band, plus Lê’s liquescent, amplified lead, is mind-boggling – a triumph, in fact. Us And Them is ingeniously reshaped – a delicate oriental motif which extends into big band grandeur, Fiete Felsch offering a beautifully effortless alto solo; and, again, Lê prompts sympathetic improvisation – the trumpet of Claus Stötter – in his Purple Or Blue. Full-on groover Any Colour You Like leads to Youn Sun Nah’s psycho-interpreted Brain Damage, maintaining its bizarre combination of disturbance and affirmation, again rippling to Husband’s extraordinary drum prowess; and closing, there’s the heightened big band illumination of Waters’ anthemic Eclipse.

Having had this running through my veins for the past few weeks, its overriding success has really caught my attention – and, along with the ’41-year-old’ on the CD shelf, it has pleasingly become something of a repeat player!

Released on 3 November 2014, further details and audio samples can be found at ACT Music.

 

Nguyên Lê electric guitar, electronics
Youn Sun Nah vocals
Gary Husband drums
Jürgen Attig electric fretless bass

NDR BIGBAND conducted by Jörg Achim Keller:
Thorsten Benkenstein
trumpet
Benny Brown trumpet
Ingolf Burkhardt trumpet
Claus Stötter trumpet
Reiner Winterschladen trumpet
Fiete Felsch alto saxophone, flute
Peter Bolte alto saxophone, flute
Christof Lauer tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Lutz Büchner tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Sebastian Gille tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Marcus Bartelt baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Dan Gottshall trombone
Klaus Heidenreich trombone
Stefan Lottermann trombone
Ingo Lahme tuba, bass trombone
Vladyslav Sendecki piano and synths
Marcio Doctor percussion

Orchestrations by Michael Gibbs
All arrangements by Nguyên Lê, except tracks 4, 14 & 15 by Michael Gibbs
Special thanks to Nick Mason

ACT Music – ACT 9574-2 (2014)

‘Petite Fleur’ – Christof Lauer & NDR Bigband play Sidney Bechet

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TAKING THE MUSIC of one of New Orleans jazz’s pioneers, Sidney Bechet, and significantly reimagining it for present-day big band may seem a touch audacious, and even unlikely – but this new release from German saxophonist Christof Lauer and the NDR Bigband, focusing on the output of saxophonist and clarinettist Bechet and his contemporaries, confounds any doubt with a scintillating performance.

By accounts a cavalier and larger-than-life character known for his brash, wide vibrato, Sidney Bechet found success in the early 1920s, his quaint archive recordings now very much ‘of the period’. Moving on almost a century, it was ACT boss Siggi Loch (whose early introduction to jazz was via the music of Bechet) who prompted Christof Lauer to consider revisiting and reinterpreting his music. The resulting transformation is both striking and accessibly attractive, due to the insightful, lush big band arrangements of Rainer Tempel and their dynamic, meticulous execution by Lauer and the NDR.

Dans Les Rues D’Antibes is a stunning opener – tuneful, and brimming with bright harmonic and percussive verve (sample Bechet’s original to understand its metamorphosis into a 21st Century sound world!). The NDR Bigband have a history of recordings with great instrumental leaders (Joe Zawinul, Alan Broadbent, Mark Lockheart, Mike Gibbs, Norma Winstone…), and here they share a similar affinity with Christof Lauer who, perhaps echoing the flamboyance of Bechet, dazzles with rapid ascending and descending soprano runs. This arrangement grows with multi-layered complexity, including expansive piano work from Hubert Nuss; and a deliciously close-knit saxophone ensemble interlude crowns a tremendously joyful number.

The original, fast-paced quirkiness of Les Oignons is magically interpreted by Tempel into mid-tempo brassy and reedy sumptuousness, Fender Rhodes completing the downtown ’70s feel. Following Lauer’s own lissome solo interlude, September, the impetus of Bechet’s Petite Fleur is maintained by a muted, questioning big band backing, Lauer’s soprano showboating against Patrice Héral’s incisive drumming and a riproaring trumpet solo; meanwhile, the Arabic impressionism of Casbah – Song of the Medina smoulders to a mysterious Rhodes ostinato and trombone counterpoint, conjuring filmic images of subterfuge and high drama. Similarly, that twee, trad. memory of Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose that I carry in my mind now becomes, in the hands of Lauer and the NDR, a slowburning, eight-minute thriller movie prelude, bright unison brass and electronics supporting Lauer’s rich tenor lines.

The jaunty, homely Si Tu Vois Ma Mère connects more readily to Sidney Bechet’s Louisiana roots – a charming offering led by Lauer’s soprano, though not without a strangely sinister undercurrent; and Harry Barris’s Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams – a number Bechet would, no doubt, have held in his repertoire – is brought right up to date with a funky, smooth jazz slant. Finally, Jimmy McHugh’s classic On the Sunny Side of the Street melts the heart with Tempel’s sophisticated-yet-carefree big band arrangement, Lauer’s ‘Bechet’ taking the final, showy bow.

It’s a glorious project whose intention captures my imagination, recalling Sidney Bechet’s early contribution to the genre, but also demonstrating the relevance of our current jazz scene in arranging and improvising bygone standards for a new and, in my experience, receptive generation.

Released in the UK on 2 June 2014, further information and audio samples are available here.

 

Christof Lauer soprano & tenor saxophone
Hubert Nuss piano
Patrice Héral drums
NDR Bigband conducted by Rainer Tempel

ACT 0657-2 (2014)