Over the last 50 years, SWR Big Band has played host to some of the finest guests that the jazz firmament has to offer. To celebrate the 50th years it was felt that the greatest challenge, the finest celebratory music, should come from the pen, or in current parlance, the keyboard of pianist, composer, arranger and band leader Bob Florence. the commission produced a unique three part suite 'Goldener Meilenstein' (Golden Milestone).
The project culminated in a recording session late April this year and a release date a month later! Working night and day the artwork, the mixing, the administration produced a CD package that looks good and, more importantly the final mix-down gives a hundred percent indication of the power and majesty of this marvelous big band.
Including the title suite, there are nine tracks, all are arrangements that are new to us, and never recorded. The titles of three, "A Train" and " Night Train" have been in the catalogue for a short time, the latter being an amplification of a small band arrangement done for the Phil Norman Tentet. "You Must Believe In Spring" had an outing on Bob's solo piano album (MAMA MMF1029).
One thing I do like about Bob Florence is that, having departed from his 'modern swing' style of the the mid-seventies to the mid eighties, his journey towards the 'cutting edge' has never left any listener stranded, the elements we loved, the imperative to swing, to surprise, the willingness to allow his talent for creating new lyrical lines to continue and not be compromised by the new density and the 'stream of consciousness' . We, the listeners are swept along by new approach, and many find themselves demanding more of others, or as musicians we find our writing becoming more adventurous but remaining listener friendly.
From those first seven low chords from the Florence Piano you know you are on a roller coaster of excitement and a big band thrill that can have few equals. He asked a lot from this superlative aggregation of Germany's finest. The ensemble swings freely through the most complex writing, no tension, just stunning outbursts of Florence inspired energy. Florence encouraged his soloists to start their solos 'on the outside' gathering intensity, coming closer to the theme and then catching fire.
This album is something Germany should be proud of, if there be awards, several should go to the SWR Big Band, it's soloists Klaus Graf (soprano), Karl Farrent (trpt), Ernst Hutter (trombone), Holger Nell (drums), Axel Kuhn (alto).... all of them in fact.