CD Review: Zurich Jazz Orchestra, To My Beloved Ones

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In 2018 the Zurich Jazz Orchestra released “Three Pictures”, the first album in a trilogy of recordings featuring compositions and arrangements of the then musical director Steffen Schorn. The second CD in the series, titled “Dedications”, appeared in mid 2021 and earlier this year the third and final album of the trilogy was released.

Since the release of the first album Schorn has stepped down as musical director of the Zurich Jazz Orchestra to take on the roll of Composer in Residence. This move was prompted largely for scheduling reasons, in addition to his work with the band Steffen also held the position of head of jazz department at the Nuremberg University of Music as well as many other musical commitments throughout the world. In the press release accompanying this release Steffen explained “I was constantly travelling, in fact, at one point I was travelling more than 1000 kilometers a week. I wanted to concentrate more on my writing and arranging so taking the position as composer-in-residence made sense to me.” He went on to say: “My new role as composer-in-residence now gives me the opportunity to take a step back and dive deeper into the inner world of emotions, memories, feelings and write brand new compositions as well as taking older pieces out of the treasure trove and create fresh custom-made orchestrations for the ZJO.”

To My Beloved Ones features five original compositions, all composed and arranged by Steffen Schorn, and is stylistically consistent with the two earlier releases in the trilogy. Having enjoyed both of the earlier releases, when this one appeared on my desk I couldn’t wait to to give it a spin and I can say straight away that it didn’t disappoint. The album opens with a track titled “Tango” that in Schorn’s own word is “… not a true tango in the literal sense, this piece is more of a metaphor and declaration of love for the South American continent, its people, culture, and natural beauty.” The track opens with an extended introduction played by Schorn on C-Melody saxophone and doubled on guitar that develops through the addition of rich harmonies and later adding ad-lib trombone and saxophone to round out the intro before a leading to a strong tutti section introducing the up-tempo samba groove. This track features strong solo contributions by René Mosele on bass trumpet and Raphael Kalt on trumpet.


The second track in the set titled “Die Tochter Des Tyrannen”, or in English, The tyrant’s daughter, is introduced with a dark introduction before introducing a theme flavored with the style we would expect from the folk music of the Kaukasus’. This tracks odd meter groove is infecturous and guitarist Theo Kapillidis is given ample room to lay down an amazing solo. As the title of this album suggests each track on this album references a person or place close to Schorn’s heart and the following track is no exception. “For Me Is Just Now Anytime…” is dedicated to Steffen’s wife, cellist Ulrike Zavelberg. In the press release Steffen explained “For Me Is Just Now Anytime…” was on my answering machine one day after our first meeting at a student concert with jazz band and string orchestra along with the words “…see you sometime…” It was like a bolt out of the blue, Ulli had entered my life. After 30 years together with it’s ups and downs, I thought it was high time that this piece finally appears on CD in a new big band version with the Zurich Jazz Orchestra!” This track is both rhythmically and harmonically complex however this complexity certainly does not affect the swing. Thomas Luthi’s tenor solo on this track glides effortlessly above the complex feel as does the follow solo contribution by pianist Gregor Muller.

The use of odd meters continues with “Käpt´n Blaubär”. This track features a trio of Saxophones with Reto Anneler and Lukas Heuss on Alto Saxophones and Schorn on Baritone over an awkward groove laid down by the rhythm section. One should note that I don’t use the word awkward in a negative sense here, the groove is infectious and the way it inacts with the thematic material adds an extra dimension that is captivating. This track is definitely one of the albums highlights and I enjoyed the tong in cheek references to that cliché lick that keeps popping up in the baritone sax.

Closing the set is the albums title track, “To My Beloved Ones”. In the press release Steffen explains that this track and the opening track of the first release in the trilogy form perfect bookends. The opening track of the first CD was performed at Schorn’s first concert with the Zurich Jazz Orchestra and “To My Beloved Ones” at the last concert he did as musical director. Steffen provided some background on this in the press release: “The trilogy began with the opening piece on the first album titled “Eye of the Wind”. I finalized the piece during the journey to my 1st concert with the Zurich Jazz Orchestra. “To my beloved ones” was premiered at the last concert I did with the band in my role as musical director and conductor. Dave Liebman was the special guest for this gig. I remember It was exactly 17:59 and 59 seconds when the sheet music for this piece was sent to the Moods jazz club office to have the parts printed, the band and Dave were already sitting ready for the 18:00 sound check…. As always, the orchestra made the music sound brilliant in no time at all. In essence I see this piece as one of the two bookends to the trilogy.

To My Beloved Ones is a gem for all those fans of contemporary big band music. The recording quality is top notch and the performances throughout are superb showing that the Zurich Jazz Orchestra is without doubt one of the best European big bands on the scene. I can’t recommend this album enough.

The Zurich Jazz Orchestra | Steffen Schorn, conductor.

Track Listing:
1. Tango | 2. Die Tochter des Tyrannen | 3. For Me Is Just Now Anytime | 4. Kaept’n Blaubaer | 5. To My Beloved Ones

Release Date: 18 March 2022
Format: CD | Digital
Label: Mons Records

Last modified: July 6, 2022