W.E.R.F. 020

Anyone concerned about the future of the "little" big band — or big band music in general — could head off to Belgium where he or she will find that the 11-piece Octurn is doing an exceptional job. Listening to the multi-dimensional sounds on this, the band's third CD, one would even suggest that Octurn, led by baritone sax player Bo Van der Werf, has an idea on how to extend that tradition still further.

"Notes gone be there", created for and featuring the keyboard work of New York's own Kenny Werner, for instance does more than pulse along on a rock-solid and rock music-like beat supplied by electric bassist Thys and solid drummer Sardjoe. It also adds "found sounds" from what sounds like an American talk radio show, horn parts that could have been played by James Brown's the J.B.s, a guest appearance by Belgium's own Toots Thielemans on harmonica, and some soaring synthesizer lines that compliment the woodwind section. Somehow the whole thing hangs together and works quite well.

Then there's "The cradle will rock", written for the band by American-born, Belgium-based New music composer Frederic Rzewski. Built around a clever, orchestral-style arrangement of multiple counterpoint, it pits different sections of the group against one another. Among the other material expressly created for this recording is Octurn trombonist de Masure's own "Round-miroirs". An unvarying swinger, it constructs a brass choir showcase for his axe and leader Van der Werf.

On each track, such soloists as trumpeter Blondiau, guitarist Pirotton or one or another of the saxophonists get to strut his stuff. Without a doubt Octurn could take its place in the first rank of such young, arranger's showcases as Maria Schneider's Manhattan-based group and Toronto's NOJO.

At the same time, like those other maturing bands, Octurn's strengths are also its weaknesses. Since it's made up, for the most part, of well-schooled musicians involved in a panoply of jazz and other, related projects, the players lack the sort of grit and road seasoning that comes to the fore with veteran aggregations. Compare its efforts with those of Holland's Instant Composers Pool or David Murray's various Octets and this becomes most obvious. The arrangements and interpretations are note perfect and certainly exciting, but nowhere are there the sort of heart-stopping solo flights you'd get with more seasoned bands.

Still, ROUND, is a more than respectable effort from a group that seems to be maturing in carefully measured paces. With the strong likelihood that the core of the band will stick together, the group's evolution will bear close watching — and listening.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Notes gone be there* 2. Round-miroirs# 3. Lydia 4. Olga 5. The cradle will rock 6. When the wind blows

Personnel: Laurent Blondiau (trumpet, flugelhorn); Geoffroy de Masure (trombone); Ben Sluijs (alto saxophone, flute); Jeroen Van Herzeele, Bart Defoort (soprano and tenor saxophones); Bo Van der Werf (baritone saxophone); Pierre Bernard (flutes), Toots Thielemans* (harmonica); Fabian Fiorini (piano, keyboards); Kenny Werner* (keyboard); Jacques Pirotton (guitar); Nicolas Thys (bass, electric bass); Jean-Luc Lehr# (electric bass); Chander Sardjoe (drums)