“Ya, ya ya, give me oom-pa-pah
When I want a melody
Lilting through the house
Then I want a melody
It laughs, it sings, the world is in rhyme
Swinging to three-quarter time”
—by Strauss, George and Ira Gershwin
That said, there ain’t much there here.
Like the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band, the Vienna Art Orchestra seeks to follow the likes of Benny Goodman as a team of individually gifted musicians held together by a strong leader who allows them room to step out, but keeps the reins tightly in his hand. Here, the leader/arranger/conductor is one Matthias Ruegg.
This is a collection of Strauss pieces re-conceived as jazz numbers, recorded live in Vienna on New Year’s Day, 2000. Unfortunately, where the Gruntz band is pulled up enough by the quality of it’s soloists to make up for a certain lack of coherence as a group, the members of the VAO rarely stand out as well as one would like. And when they do, it’s not always to their advantage.
Before I get into specific cuts, here is a “let the buyer beware.” All of the track titles and most of the liner notes are in German. There is a translation of a short biography of Strauss, but it (the translation) has clearly been made by someone whose first language is not English.
Probably the most successful single cut on the album is “Marienklange Walzer,” which starts with a tick-tock rhythm and soon adds a very musical tenor solo by Andy Scherrer, who is joined by Bertl Mayer on harmonica. On “Mit Extrapost,” Heinrich Von Kalnein reminds us that since Mel Torme died, you can count on your fingers and toes the number of people who should try scat singing, while guitarist Algre Correa noodles in the background. Listening to Michel Portal’s clarinet solo on “Persischer Marsch,” you can’t help but note how much it is in the style of great players like Artie Shaw and especially Goodman, without being nearly as impressive. A bass solo is something that should be used sparingly, and devoting almost five minutes to one, even as well-played as by Georg Breinschmid here, on “Hellenen Polka,” is just asking for trouble. At the very least, it’s inviting your audiences mind to wander. The set winds up with a bloated version of “Donawalzer,” better known to us English-speaking types as “The Blue Danube,” made famous by Kubrick’s use of it in 2001.
This is not an album that anyone particularly needs to hear.