WHEN SWING BECOMES BLISS: ADVENTURES WITH ENGELBERT WROBEL and FRIENDS

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The man smiling at you might not be a familiar sight, but he is a superb reed player named Engelbert Wrobel.  (Ask Dan Barrett about this master of the saxophones and clarinet).  Wrobel is a splendidly swinging player on his own — who also puts together irreplaceably gratifying jazz ensembles.

Before we proceed, how about some evidence?  Here’s LADY BE GOOD — performed a few years ago by Engelbert, clarinet, tenor; Chris Hopkins, piano; Rolf Marx, guitar; Henning Gailing, string bass; Oliver Mewes, drums — with reed guests Antti Sarpila and Frank Roberscheuten.  Thus, THE THREE TENORS OF SWING:

Evocative without being an exact copy — except when the frontline launches into a delightful reading of Lester’s 1936 solo, something I look forward to.

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This group has made one recording for its own Click label (which delightfully duplicates the black-and-white splendor of a 1938 Brunswick 78 label — we care about such things!) and a new one is just out — THE THREE TENORS OF SWING ON STAGE, recorded at two concerts in 2011.  (In the photograph on the left, it’s Antti Sarpila on the left, Frank Roberscheuten in the center, and Engelbert on the right.)

The sound on the CD is wonderful, the musicians delightfully inspired, and the repertoire varied.  I was listening to it for the first time this afternoon, and when the disc was about halfway through, I stopped it, and said to myself, “I have to write about this right now.  It is so good.”  It features Antti Sarpilla, Frank Roberscheuten, and Engelbert on reeds, with a rhythm section of Rolf Marx, guitar; Chris Hopkins, piano; Henning Gailing, string bass; Oliver Mewes, drums.

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The songs will say a great deal about the variety and range of this group, evoking (but not copying) Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Benny Goodman small groups, the Ellington reed section, the Basie band, Bob Crosby’s Bobcats and more: BEAN STALKING / SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT / BLACK AND TAN FANTASY / THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE / ANTTIBERT WROPILLA / JUBILEE STOMP / LA VIE EN ROSE / SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE / LESTER’S BOUNCE / SIX CATS AND A PRINCE / THE MOOCHE / I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART / TILL TOM SPECIAL / MISTY MORNING / WEBSTERITY.

I expected a smooth — but not slick — ensemble sound, with a swinging rhythm section, and I wasn’t disappointed.  What was even better was the writing: not just three horns playing in harmony or in unison, but clever arrangements that made this septet sound full and rich.  And although the repertoire (except for four original compositions) predates 1945, there isn’t the slightest hint of “repertory” stuffiness.  One track seems even more fresh and creative than the last, and it’s amazing that this was recorded in concert, with the energy built in to that situation.  It’s the kind of CD about which I say, “I want to go hear that again right now.”  You will, too.

My involvement with the second CD — featuring the International Hot Jazz Quartet (Engelbert, Duke Heitger, trumpet / vocal; Paolo Alderighi, piano; Bernard Flegar) is more personal.  I had heard, replayed, and much admired the first effort by this group — with Mewes on drums — on the Arbors label.

Some readers may know that I write liner notes for jazz compact discs.  But since my range is admittedly (or proudly) narrow, I don’t get asked to write about music outside my pleasure zone . . . and I won’t write about something I don’t like.

I read on Facebook that Engelbert had completed this disc and, perhaps coyly, sent him a message, “Do you need liner notes for this CD?”  Happily, the answer was yes . . . and the music is even happier.  Here are pictures of the covers and you can, I hope, read what I wrote — with no artificial ingredients.

still havin´ cover 200

Inside . . .

still havin´2

And . . . .

still havin´3

And . . . .

Still havin´4

Finally . . . .

still havin´back 200

Now you have it all — all except the music contained within, which is a thorough pleasure.  (I don’t know why the four members are photographed at school desks — they surely have graduated from any institutions of higher swing learning.  But no matter.)

To purchase this CD or others with Engelbert and friends, visit here.  You’ll be lifted into bliss — or your money back.

May your happiness increase!

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