Vince Mendoza WDR Big Band Cologne ‘Homecoming’ (Jazzline/Delta Music) 4/5

Arranger, composer and conductor, Vince Mendoza is clearly a very driven man and consequently his big band works have impressed with their varied musical tapestries that are anything but clichéd, dripping in sophisticated melodicism and yet still allowing plenty of space for instrumentalists. This live concert recorded at the Philharmonie in Cologne dates from 2014 and is a fine illustration of what the WDR Big Band are capable of when under the very able hands of Mendoza.
On the funk-tinged big band opener, ‘Keep it up’, there are faintest hints of mid-1980s Miles in terms of the muted harmon solo and even the jazz-rock influenced guitar soloing of Paul Shigihara. A minor tempo number, ‘Little voice’, is a fine showcase for the talents of pianist Frank Chastenier with the horns offering subtle support in the background on this smaller ensemble piece.
Vince Mendoza made his reputation on a wonderful 1992 ACT CD, ‘Jazzpaña’ with ace producer Arif Mardin, and this was awarded a German Jazz prize and was indeed nominated for two Grammies. Latin flavours emerge on two pieces. The first has a rootsy Brazilian flavour, ‘Choros #3’, and evokes the roots of Brazilian samba with Marcio Doctor on percussion clarinettist Johan Hörlen. This writer especially likes the solo use of fender rhodes from Chastenier and the shuffling drum pattern on this particularly attractive theme. A second Latin-themed tune, ‘Amazonas’, is, in some ways, even more impressive with gorgeous horn unison arrangements and the fine solo trombone work of Ludwig Nuss.

Vince Mendoza is the kind of arranger and composer who always writes with the musicians and orchestra in mind, and the end result is not simply excellent ensemble performances, but also highly innovative and, in some places, unusual use of instrumentation, and collectively this constantly keeps the listener challenged and wondering what is going to happen next. A fine offering from a leader at the height of his creative powers.

Tim Stenhouse