Jens Wendelboe is putting together some terrific stuff with his big band and Fresh Heat is the latest in what should be a regular occurrence on the jazz release calendar.
This is a record brimming with delight and joy, elements that are sadly all too rare through much of modern jazz. Wendelboe’s sound is bracingly contemporary and energetic. It refuses to sit and decay in the past. It refuses to slog through the same old spaces, dotting and crossing the “right” letters for the sake of “tradition.”
No, what we have with Fresh Heat is an album that lives up to its title — and then some. Much like the vibrant Inspirations before it, Wendelboe’s latest is a pleasing accumulation of energy that forms at just the right time and blows the damn roof off.
Wendelboe plays with the same big band from Inspirations, an imposing 16-piece unit that includes the likes of Charley Gordon (trombone), Steve Jankowski (trumpet) and David Anderson (electric bass). The pristine Deb Lyons also pops by on vocals. Wendelboe has proven himself as an intuitive, high-energy bandleader (and a pretty decent trombonist). Fresh Heat gives him a chance to notch things up a bit. He burns his band through fiery grooves and cools things down to a light sizzle at the right moments, layering his sounds with affectionate glee and surprising emotion.
The Clifford Brown classic “Joy Spring” takes the lead spot. Lyons beautifully blends with the band immediately and sets the sunny tone. It is a fresh start, one that feels like a cool breeze just a touch before the heat kicks in. Lyons’ tone is sophisticated and her diction is faultless as she ventures through the off-centre vocals. Having Vinnie Cutro drop in a few trumpet trimmings is a nice touch.
Things really get cooking (and swinging) on the delicious “No Mercy.” The Wendelboe original is a scorcher of a song, built on a funky groove. The horns blast away from all sides and drummer Lee Finkelstein’s got to be having a blast playing this one. His fills are off the chart. A remarkably reconstructed “My Funny Valentine” is another Fresh Heat highlight. Lyons is back in the vocal seat, blending stylishly with an arrangement that seems to have some slight noir kisses. Jankowski’s muted trumpet is downright mean.
With an immaculate gift for leading a hazardously good throng of brassy immensity and a knack for distilling some classic numbers into hip current conceptions, Jens Wendelboe certainly knows his stuff. Fresh Heat is yet another example of his cleverness. And the band’s not half bad either.
Article originally published as Jens Wendelboe Big Band – Fresh Heat at Something Else Reviews.