»A QUANTUM LEAP IN BIG BAND JAZZ”
This is what jazz expert Klaus Schulz wrote in the German magazine Jazzpodium about the 2001 Salzburg Autumn Jazz Festival (Salzburger Jazzherbst 2001) appearance of the Jazz Bigband Graz, together with composer-master trombonist Bob Brookmeyer.
Time has flown and much has changed, but the Quantum Leap is still happening, as many music colleagues, jazz fans and journalists have told us. But first, back to the beginning.
The Jazzorchester, founded in 1998, in Graz, Austria, catapulted itself into the major leagues through astute programming and collaboration with some of the most high-profile international jazz artists. In addition to memorable festival performances with the Grammy Award-winning, American vocal sextet Take 6, the New York Voices, Kurt Elling, Jon Hendricks and Bob Mintzer, among others, it was the band’s collaboration with composer-trombonist Bob Brookmeyer and Ed Neumeister, resulting in two albums, which confirmed that this is a truly stellar jazz ensemble that can hold its own among the best.
In 2003, flutist-saxophonist Heinrich von Kalnein and singer-trumpeter Horst-Michael Schaffer took over the artistic leadership of the band with the declared goal of taking the JBBG in a whole new direction and of creating their own distinctive sound.
»… UNCOMPROMISED DEPARTURE FROM BIG BAND STALE AIR.” «
– Jazzthing Germany
The band found an enthusiastic international audience with their first release on a major label, A Life Affair (Universal Music), due in large part to the support of veteran JBBG drummer John Hollenbeck, who also contributed as a composer, and singer Theo Bleckmann (CD: Joys & Desires, Intuition Records 2005).
In 2008, ‘Electric Poetry & Lo-Fi Cookies’ (CD on Intuition Records) was the product of their pursuit of a totally new sound aesthetic and other creative innovations. By now everyone was talking about the JBBG and it continued to progress as a role model for the contemporary modern sound aesthetic for big band and jazz orchestras, wherein the term “big band” initially referred only to the large number of musicians in the ensemble. Further supported by the composing skills of band leader Horst-Michael Schaffer, the JBBG proved how effectively contemporary big band sound can meld with minimal music, African and electronic music — as well as with spoken word, and with the laptop and drum’n’bass aesthetic — to the point of even achieving pop music appeal.
“We would like to warmly dedicate all of the concerts in the program Urban Folktales to BARBARA BUCHHOLZ, who left us forever after a serious illness and who, from 2007-2012, made an important contribution to the band’s sound, with the otherworldly tones of her theramin.«
– The Band
“… one of the most forward-thinking enterprises in recent jazz.” This is the appraisal that the well-known British composer and musician Colin Towns strikingly made in All About Jazz, about the new sound of the JBBG, with the postscript: “…music for the heart and for the feet”. Our priority was not to simply lay a claim, at any price, to having produced something new. It has been about catching the moment, the here and now, in the 21st century and to live it out. Without cutting ourselves off from current trends, to allow the ideas they engender to have free run and to build on established traditions in a self-evident, natural way. The present moment can serve as a collecting pool in which the increasingly rapid developments in musical trends and artistic impulses can effectively mix, free from restraint and blinkered vision.
Through this approach, the band has developed its current unique sound, which seamlessly integrates a multitude of influences. The JBBB has found its vision and its own signature style, combining true jazz musicianship with a broad range of elements from African, minimalist and electronic music, along with influences from literature and the pop culture.
Their current album ‘Urban Folktales‘ (ACT 2012) is the logical outcome of their continued development in this type of sound aesthetics. The JBBG has gained stature as a global project, with its big band feel, enhanced by the art of classical composition, mixed up with minimal music, rock and many electronic elements; and by building on its own cultural roots while enlisting the talents of topnotch musicians from Scandinavia, Southern Europe, the Far East, the USA and Africa. With the addition of various Austrian folk instruments, such as the zither and hurdy-gurdy, and the distinctive Austrian-inspired poetry of Peter Rosegger, the JBBG has ventured out into the world, with enough courage to even explore the great space beyond. And that is how it should be, and how it should continue, because who knows where this voyage will lead?
The top class lineup of the JBBG includes some of the most high-profile, award-winning European musicians of our time, and their numbers keep growing.
The current members of the JBBG (Jazz Bigband Graz) are:
HEINRICH VON KALNEIN // HORST-MICHAEL SCHAFFER // PATRICK DUNST // CHRISTOPH ‘PEPE’ AUER // SEBASTIAN GILLE // MARTIN HARMS // BERNHARD NOLF // AXEL MAYER // DAVID JARH // MARTIN OHRWALDER // REINHARD SUMMERER // CARLO GRANDI // ADAM LADANYI // HANNES OPPEL // ULI RENNERT // THOMAS WILDING // CONRADO MOLINA // THOMAS STABLER
Anyone who has heard the JBBG in concert will know that their vision also comes across in their live performances. Thanks to the support of one of the best sound and light crews, along with visual artists OchoReSotto with Volker Sernetz and Stefan Sobotka, their concerts are transformed into stunning multimedia experiences.