The EJO was founded in 1998 by the Danish organization, "Swinging Europe." In collaboration with the European Broadcasting Union, "Swinging Europe" chooses a new line-up, conductor and composers each year for a three-week tour. The conductor of EJO 08 is the prize-winning composer/arranger, Niels Klein, from Cologne. Klein, born in 1978, was a member of EJO 05 and is a working bandleader and saxophonist. All the compositions and charts on this live recording are his.
If you doubt the evolution of the big band into today's jazz orchestra just listen to EJO 08. The original big bands were designed for dancers with an emphasis on rhythm, swing, and interaction between sections. Then Duke started something with musical colors that crossed sectional lines. Klein has built on the work of his influences, including Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer,to explore all the possibilities of the orchestra, whether they be combinations of sounds or variations in rhythm and dynamics. Solos and ensemble are integrated. The music is edgy. It won't get your toes tapping. It's meant for your head.
The opener, "Two Circles," and "Progression" develop complexity and variety from a simple start. "Iyosaii" projects quiet loneliness and drama, with Eivind Lønning's trumpet and Klein's tenor setting the mood. Space travel is the theme for two charts. "14th Voyage," with a sensitive alto solo by Petr Kalfus, rides over a underlying "electronic code" pattern to both chaos and peace while the surreal "Skylift" floats and soars. "Tanzlied," based on a "powerful dark poem", closes the set. That was difficult for me to listen to solely because it was beyond my personal "free" threshold.
In short, I was taken on a musical journey by this remarkable orchestra and their expressiveness had me emotionally involved from start to finish. What more could one ask for?
The beat goes on. The latest edition of EJO was on tour this spring (2009), directed by Romanian-born Peter Herbolzheimer. Over the years this constantly-refreshed orchestra has presented 226 musicians in 175 concerts throughout Europe and in North and South America and Asia. A wonderful gift for this turbulent world.