Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tobias Becker Big Band Life Stream Neuklang 2013

 Jazz orchestra, big band, or large ensemble the differential in terminology is in direct proportion to the number of members and the arrangements involved. I have heard some fine big bands here in the United States, perhaps too many. Three bands in two years have been almost flawless while the rest are simply above average.

Tobias Becker drops Life Stream on March 1, 2013 and with his big band is one of the two finest large ensembles coming out of Eastern Europe. Becker began this journey in 2008 with the expressed intent of focusing on the diversity of the members and arrangement that make up his big band without the ensemble overshadowing the musicians, the performers dictate the ebb and flow of another highly organic flip of what most listeners consider to be the more traditional aspects of big band. A bold move is to take the reigns of a big band as your initial debut with a release full of originals and self arrangements. Becker shows his formidable skills as a leader and will hopefully have his incredible band cross over to continue to give the more stoic American big bands the creative jump start that most American ensembles  are still struggling with. Perhaps handcuffed by a more academic approach here in the United States, Becker charts a new course coming out of Germany and raises the bar for others to follow.

Life Stream Suite 1 opens this lush compositions with a deceptively subtle jazz orchestration carefully laid under some dynamite solos from various individuals to create a dynamic fusion of hard bop with a smoking hot big band with the uncanny ability to change dynamics on the fly. One cover here is an absolutely exquisite version of the American standard "I'll Be Seeing You" brought full circle with the vocal artistry of Verena Nubel. A delightful cover that allows the original melody to soar while the arrangement has an intoxicating ebb and flow as a tune within a tune. "Parker 51" is a Jimmy Raney tune that again is a cover that hits all its marks while never losing the feel of the melodic flow of the original. The ebb and flow contained and the occasional more contemporary riff on some standard tunes shows Becker's prolific talents as composer and arranger and an absolute force to be reckoned with in the years to come.

Preconceived notions are never good when evaluating artistic merit. While a keen sense of melody and perhaps some basic knowledge of theory is helpful, artists like Tobias Becker and his big band transcend the typical or the expected and work their ensemble into new and often uncharted melodic waters. Life Stream is as close to perfect as a contemporary big band can achieve, 4.5 out of 5 stars and highly recommended for big band aficionados.

Tracks: Life Stream Suite 1, Life Stream Suite 2; Life Stream Suite 3; Life Stream Suite 4; I'll Be Seeing You; Meerklang; Parker 51; Independent Blue; Love Me Or Leave Me.

Personnel: Saxophones: Markus Harm (as/ss/fl/cl); Markus Land: (as/ss/fl); Alexander Buhl (ts/ss/fl/cl); Toni Bechtold: (ts/ss/fl/cl); Christopher Beck: (bs/ss/fl/cl); Trumpets: Christian Much (tp/flgh); Christian Mehler (tp/flgh); Tobias Reisacher: (tp/flgh); Stefan Udri (tp/flgh); Trombones: Florian Seegr; Tim Hepburn; Marc Ross; Sven Gotz (bass trb); Vocals: Verena Nubel; Rhythm Section: Christopher Neuhaus (git); Johannes Maikranz: (git); Tobias Becker: (p/cond); Judith Goldbach (db); Martin Gruenwald: drums; Kasia Kadlubowska (marimba).