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  • Jonathan Widran

BOB MINTZER & WDR BIG BAND COLOGNE, Soundscapes

After nearly 40 years leading and recording with his own large ensembles under the moniker Bob Mintzer Big Band, the veteran saxophonist is as renowned in this genre as the legends he cut his proverbial teeth with way back when – including Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, Jaco Pastorius and Buddy Rich.

Yet these past 30 years, he’s also been a key part of the ongoing success of The Yellowjackets. Mintzer finally found a way to fuse these two key aspects of his musical expression on Jackets XL, a 2020 album combining the genius of Russell Ferrante and crew with the sweeping energy of the WDR Big Band, which Mintzer has been chief conductor of since 2015. That unique convergence set the stage for Soundscapes, the long awaited official debut of Mintzer and the ensemble, dubbed here WDR Big Band Cologne.


The title of two tracks, “Whack” and “Herky Jerky,” really capture the feisty, hard hitting, fun, freewheeling and melodically, rhythmically and harmonically off the charts spirit of the 10 track, 68 minute jam. The irony, of course, is that the sly, moody and atonally funky “Whack” is actually one of the gentler seductions on a set that only includes one other, the lyrical and romantic “New Look” which showcases the gentler, graceful side of Mintzer’s expansive artistry.


The rest of the time, whether cookin’ a little tasty Weather Report spiced stew (“A Reprieve”), firing up a soaring, swinging brassy dialogue (“The Conversation,” driven by the sizzling guest percussionist Marcio Doctor) or percolating Cuban rumba style on the hypnotic sizzler “Montuno,” he and his crew seem in a mad dash to blow away our emotions and expand the limits of what our musical consciousness can injest with brisk, vibrant arrangements.


Mintzer throws a bit of autobiography into the mix with another Latin-tinged burst of sexy fire, “Canyon Winds,” that reflects on his current home in California, and a feisty re-imagining of “One Music,” a bustling gem from his 1991 album of the same name featuring one of Mintzer’s most effective improvisational solos. Mintzer’s versatility on the EWI allows him to go wild (think the wind equivalent of George Duke) on a few tunes so the WDR band’s other sax stars, Paul Heller (tenor) and Karolina Strassmeyer (alto) are free to strut their deeply impactful stuff.