Gerard Presencer and Danish Radio Big Band ‘Groove Travels’ CD/LP/Dig (Edition) 4/5

gerard-presencerThis is a welcome return to recordings duties as a leader. To a younger audience, the name may not be that familiar, but the trumpet will be because Gerard Presencer was the sound behind the 1990s jazz-dance hit cover of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Canteloupe Island’ by US3 that became a smash pop hit. The trumpeter has previously recorded three solo albums, but this is his first in over a decade when he recorded with the German ACT label in 2001. On this new effort, Presencer arranges and leads a significantly larger ensemble, the Danish Radio Big Band, and if one had to make any kind of meaningful comparison, then it might be Miles Davis’s ‘Aura’ with Palle Mikkelborg from the mid-1980s. In recent years the big band format has slowly but surely made a return to the jazz scene, with the obvious financial obstacles hindering regular live performances of this extended setting. Joining the musical party are guest trumpeter Adam Rapa and percussionist Eliel Lazo and the music comprises new originals and creative arrangements of covers, most notably a reprise of Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’. A new reading of the epic ‘Footprints’ from the classic Miles quintet era begins with the main theme established and repeated by tuba and once again Presencer intervenes with a lovely understated solo. From the arranging perspective, the piece stands out for its mixing of time signatures with a general uptempo Latin-tinged theme running through. Funk flavours emerge on the uptempo groove with James Brown guitar licks that accompanies ‘Blues for Des’, with the number settling into a minor chord number with Fender Rhodes and saxophone solo by Karl-Martin Anqvist.

Another interesting cover is that of Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and this is reworked completely and performed at a rapid tempo cha-cha tempo and is undoubtedly an album highlight. This version compares well with the mid-1960s interpretation by the Jazz Crusaders or the famous vocal take by Ray Charles. Impressionistic hues are a distinguishing feature of this new album and the atmospheric bass line of a nocturnal eastern setting gives way to a soprano-led number on ‘Istanbul coffee cup’ that is far from clichéd, but conveys with due clarity the pace of life in the Turkish city, with fine ensemble work and prominent guitar riffs.

What comes across in general on this new album is the subtlety of Presencer’s arrangements and this is no better illustrated than on the minor Latin theme that permeates ‘Ballad of the tango of the misunderstood’, here played as a gentle bossa nova with a gorgeous Fender Rhodes solo from Henrik Gunde who has clearly been influenced by mid-1970s Herbie Hancock and with a fine soprano saxophone solo from Peke Fridell. In sum, then, there is a well-balanced mixture of tempi, with a gently paced opener in ‘Another weirdo’ and even a rock-tinged piece, ‘Devil’s larder’. Gerard Presencer is one of the less media-present musicians of the British jazz scene, yet judging by the maturity in the orchestral arrangements, he fully deserves to be more widely known and this recording may just introduce him to a wider and appreciative audience.

Tim Stenhouse