Hunter in the morning, shepherd at noontime, critic of an evening. Elegant swing yesterday, elastic Latin beats today, genuine bebob tomorrow, and the following day a programme that is so individual it can only be associated with the NDR Bigband, a jazz band made up of self-assured soloists and proud not to be dependent on the glamour of guest stars. Yet, as numerous meetings with such artists as Chet Baker, Abdullah Ibrahim, Al Jarreau, Carla Bley, Bobby McFerrin, João Bosco, Omar Sosa and recently with Joe Sample clearly demonstrate, the band shuns neither glamour nor international guest stars.
Nevertheless, despite all these meetings and their cultivation of the traditional bigband repertoire within the context of their busy concert schedule within the NDR’s transmission area, consistent work on their own sound remains their core area of competence. This is what makes the NDR Bigband uniquely attractive – precisely what editor Wolfgang Kunert and long-standing leader Dieter Glawischnig had in mind some forty years ago when they set about redefining the function of this band. As a consequence, the NDR Bigband has gained a reputation as one of jazz’s foremost bigbands on both sides of the Atlantic – a winning concept that has been faithfully pursued for the last years under the artistic direction of Jörg Achim Keller and the management of Axel Dürr.
Just as unmistakably as Keller, who, born in Zurich in 1966, was writing arrangements for the NDR Bigband at the tender age of 20, represents a younger generation of bandleaders, so clearly, too, is the unchanging three-part structure of the band’s repertoire. The first part consists in preserving jazz’s century-old tradition, the second in exciting meetings with such stars as Quincy Jones, Bobby McFerrin, Maria Schneider, Al Jarreau or Rolf Kühn, and the third in honing their own profile by performing compositions either by members of the band or ones written by the bandleader.
This top-rank Hamburg jazz ensemble offers its soaring flights of musical artistry in programmes tailor-made for the soloists in the band by arrangers such as the late Steve Gray, fellow Briton Colin Towns or Michael Gibbs. And this is where the NDR Bigband comes into its own, versed, as it is, in each and every stylistic register, yet with its feet firmly planted in the here and now. And that’s what sets this bigband apart from the others.
A band of soloists, an amalgam of individualists with a wide range of predilections. After traditional radio entertainment, prime-time TV shows and everyday light music had been left behind, there remained behind the desks of the NDR Bigband just those resolute jazz musicians with the determination, courage and ability to play after their very own fashion. From long-standing lead sax Herb Geller, who won his spurs as one of the insiders in the cool West Coast scene, to the gifted Wolfgang Schlüter, his opposite number on the fragile vibraphone, to today’s members, the Frankfurt rhapsodist Christof Lauer and unassuming tonal aesthete Lutz Büchner on tenor saxophones, together with abstract expressionist Peter Bolte and rocker Fiete Felsch on altos as well as powerplant Frank Delle out on the right on baritone sax.
From section leader Thorsten Benkenstein and the manifoldly well-versed Claus Stötter to sound-modeller Ingolf Burkhardt and free-thinking avant-gardist Reiner Winterschladen on trumpets. From Stefan Lottermann, who contributes a whiff of that cool Frankfurt enjoyment of experimentation, to vitality-breathing Dan Gottshall and Ingo Lahme on trombones. From Argentinian-born percussionist Marcio Doctor and studio wizard Stephan Diez on guitar to keyboarder Vladyslav Sendecki, who not only knows all a concert pianist’s tricks but who not so long ago was presented with the Hamburg Jazz Award. And, most recently, the young trombonist Klaus Heidenreich and double bassist Ingmar Heller have joined the band – each musician contributing his very own splash of colour to the whole and, in so doing, pushing the ensemble’s horizon ever further out. As well as adding to the friction within the band, that very friction which makes for the fiery vitality that has become the trademark of the NDR Bigband. After all, it’s jazz, music improvised by soloists.
NDR Bigband Redaktion:
Axel Dürr, Management
Martina van Dijk, PR
D – 20149 Hamburg
Tel: + 49 (0) 40 4156 2448
Fax: + 49 (0) 40 4156 3485