Big band in orbit by David Alston


Roaring into Johannesburg on its way to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown earlier this month, The Stockholm Jazz Orchestra blew the rafters off The Orbit Jazz Club in Braamfontein in a one-night stand and showed the capacity crowd that big band jazz is more than alive and well in Europe.

Reminiscent of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra’s legendary Monday night sessions at The Village Vanguard in New York, and also of the few CD’s made by Dave Grusin’s GRP Big Band, the men from Sweden – ten years after their first visit to these shores – demonstrated what this genre is all about: complex but always swinging arrangements, stunning ensemble work, and a uniformly high standard of solos offered up by nearly every member.

Despite having only flown in on the morning of the gig, the Band romped through two sets of over an hour each with enormous enthusiasm, with a little help from composer and arranger Ann-Sofi Sonderqvist (herself a mean fugelhorn player) and vocalist Lena Swaneberg with whom the band collaborated for a concert of their own in Grahamstown.

With a variety of band members contributing to the originals played, singling out the highlights would be inviduous, but nearly everyone got a chance to display their chops. A highlight for me was the drumming of Jukkis Yotila (he has a CD of his own compositions with the Band) who played with just the right amount of light and shade but continually stoked both soloists and the ensemble when needed.

Le Toute Ensemble was as follows: Reeds – Johan Horlen, Johan Christofferson, Robert Nordmark, Karl-Martin Almqvist, and Fredrik Lindberg; Trumpets –Fredrik Noren (Musical Director), Tobias Wiklund, Gustavo Bergalli and Nils Jansson; Trombones – Bertil Strandberg, Peter Dahlgren, Kasperi Sarikoski and Anders Wiborg; Guitar – Ola Bengtson; Piano – Daniel Tilling; Bass Martin Sjostedt; and Drums: Jukkis Uotila.

   Some of the personnel are regular visitors to these shores in various settings: catch them, and learn what good jazz is all about. And special kudos to The Orbit for at last providing a ‘proper’ venue for this music in Johannesburg: good food, reasonably priced drinks, adequate seating and above all, an ethos where patrons listen.