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You gotta have (Billy) Hart


Billy Hart & The WDR Big Band, “The Broader Picture” (Enja, out next week)

The key name here is in small type on the front of the insert: “Arranged and conducted by Christopher Schweizer.”

He is “Swiss-born, Hamburg-based” and was a student of drummer Billy Hart’s back in New York in 1992. It was Schweizer’s idea to collaborate with Hart, who had never been a featured soloist with this sort of jazz orchestra before in Schweizer’s arrangements of Hart’s compositions. Hart insisted Schweizer put “as much of your concept there as possible.” And that he did in a way that almost puts him in the same arranging class as the late Bob Brookmeyer and his student Maria Schneider.

The result when performed by the WDR Big Band (the greatest jazz orchestra in the current world – Europe’s equivalent of Gil Evans Orchestra or Thad Jones/Mel Lewis in their prime) is a radiant disc of jazz orchestral music with rich, sensual textures and fine European soloists, most notably tenor saxophonist Paul Heller, who is blistering and arresting all the way through.

There’s nothing wrong with the other soloists either, but it is Heller’s playing over these sumptuous jazz orchestra textures that makes the record stand out as much as it does. The climactic “Imke’s March” brightens the overall mood but, in fact, dissipates some of its beauty and pushes it more than it needed to be pushed into the direction of conventional jazz big band playing. Nevertheless, most of this is majestic.

3 1/2 stars (out of four)

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