When I think of big bandleaders, I think piano. Yet, here are two new releases by trombonists leading modern-era big bands. You won’t find rehashed covers of Ellington or other American jazz legends, but both the Michael Treni 16-piece big band and The Jens Weldelboe Big Band swing low and high. First, there is Treni who began his jazz career with promise, almost landing a touring gig with Art Blakely that at the last moment fell through leading the musician to a new direction of arranging. Trombonist Jens Wendelboe, on the other hand, has run the gamut between jazz, pop, and movie soundtracks. He leans heavily on a strong melody.
Opening with Leonard Bernstein’s Something’s Coming Treni and his musicians provide robust jazz on the album, Boy’s Night Out. The musical personnel however, doesn’t feature any women jazz musicians in the band, but okay Treni is forgiven. With the dazzling horns on Lullaby for Birdland that turn around and seduce listeners on Strayhorn (referring to Billy Strayhorn of Ellington fame), to the ethereal flute and strings on In My Quiet Time that converses with muted trumpet, this album lifts up its listeners.
After leaving his career as a jazz musician back in the 1980s to pursue an entrepreneurship in the audio field, Treni returned full force as an arranger, bandleader and player. He’s chosen fine group of musicians to collaborate such as Vinnie Cutro (trumpet) and Jerry Bergonzi (saxophone), but all the member of this 16-piece outfit sail a tight ship and swinging to jazz of this millennium. A real beauty even without any women jazz players.
Big band meets strong pop melodies on The Jens Wendelboe Big Band’s Fresh Heat. From the snappy opener Joy Spring with vocalist Deb Lyons burning her way through the quick tempo standard. She returns on My Funny Valentine that she nails vocally speaking, emphasizing the bittersweet sentiments in Rodgers and Hart’s famous song. The remaining six instrumental tracks sizzle and snap, just as you would expect from the flames searing Wendelboe’s trombone on the CD cover.
The Norwegian trombonist balances originals such as the horn-heavy No Mercy with originals by Rogers/Hart, Clifford Brown, and Joe Henderson’s dreamy Black Narcissus. Falling Grace opens with a seductive trumpet solo then the saxophones join the party. What a Trip bounces on its way and the 9-minute-long Suite for Bjorn closes off this steamy recording. I am not sure what wavelength would cause two trombonist-bandleaders to release albums in April, but for fans of modern era swing, April might just feel happy-go-lucky.