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Jazz Review : George Gruntz Band: Journey Of Contrasts

October 16, 1987|A. JAMES LISKA

Switzerland's George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band made its West Coast debut here Wednesday evening at the Palace as an 18-piece aggregate with decidedly more Americans than Europeans.

Promising "journeys through different landscapes," Gruntz, 55, led his brass-heavy group through an image-laden set of his own arrangements that were texturally rich and darkly moody.

"Inner Earth," a composition by tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, opened the two-hour set and featured the composer soloing in a distinctive, angular manner against a backdrop fashioned from three trombones, two French horns and tuba. The timbrel contrast was maintained in the following "Novelette," a basically gentle-sounding piece that featured wildly patterned solos by trombonist David Taylor and soprano saxophonist Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky.

Nowhere were contrasts more apparent though in "Happening Now," an aria from a jazz opera Gruntz is writing with poet Allen Ginsberg. The piece, sung aptly by Sheila Jordan, pitted a two-beat chase sequence against a traditional swing feel. The dreary, repetitive lyrics fitted neatly into either mode, however, as did solos by trumpeter Enrico Rava, trombonist Art Baron and tuba player Howard Johnson.

Jordan was given another pair of outings that showed her in a much better light. A closing "You Are My Sunshine" was breezy and bluesy, and her lightly swinging rendition of "It's You or No One" was followed by alto saxophonist Lee Konitz's "It's You," a tune based on the same changes. Konitz and trumpeter Marvin Stamm were in fine solo form in this full-swinging arrangement that was hampered only by Bobby Moses, a fine small group drummer, who dragged the tempo.

Exceptional solos abounded, including those by trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti on the lovely ballad, "Spring Flowers, Morning Sun," and, on "Emergency Call," by trombonist Ray Anderson and bassist Mike Richmond.

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