During its more than 40-year existence, the 20-piece DR (Danish Radio) Big Band has proven to be an exceptionally fine jazz orchestra. Its musical directors have included, among others, Thad Jones and Bob Brookmeyer. Pianist/composer/arranger Jim McNeely replaced Brookmeyer in 1998 and remained the band’s chief conductor until 2002. Dedication Suite was composed and recorded that year as McNeely’s “farewell offering” to the ensemble.
Jim McNeely is a true composer. He doesn’t string together riffs or rehash tired licks, but produces works for jazz ensemble that are highly original and technically sophisticated. The bare-bones sleeve for the promotional copy of Dedication Suite lists seven separate tracks, although several flow into the next and the composer’s comments elsewhere suggest that some were intended to be joined as two-part compositions. In any case, six of the seven are orchestral settings for duos of excellent soloists—alto flute and flugelhorn, trombone and bass, trumpet and tenor, trumpet and piano, trombone and drums or guitar and tenor. The moods include the elegiac somberness of “Mourning (for Manny),” in memory of arranger Manny Albam, the hard-bop, funk, Latin liveliness of “Over My Head,” the Irish-dance-like spirit of “Muckian’s Bluff” and the uptempo exhilaration of “This Time the Good Guys Win.”