The Bob Mintzer Big Band, a part-time and largely studio-based ensemble dating back more than 20 years, has made thematic albums devoted to a particular style of jazz (1998’s Latin from Manhattan) or in tribute to a particular musician (1995’s Big Band Trane, 2000’s Grammy-winning Homage to Count Basie). It has also taken musical tone as a theme, notably on 2003’s Gently, and that is more the case with Swing Out, which, as its title indicates, means to explore the confluence of traditional swing, a big band hallmark, and the “out” playing of free jazz, a more problematic endeavor for a large ensemble.
What ties the two together is Mintzer’s writing. He is the composer of six of the nine pieces here, and even his arrangement of “Someday My Prince Will Come” is sufficiently unusual to be all but unrecognizable. Utilizing a 16-piece unit with five saxophones, four trumpets and four trombones, plus rhythm section, he creates striking, rhythmically complex parts for the reeds and horns to play together, or for different sections to play in contrast, before they subside while he and one or two of the others take extended solos. As usual, vocalist Kurt Elling stops in for a featured piece, adding vocals to Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays’ “Minuano.” It must be challenging for such repeat members of the Mintzer band as altoist Peter Yellin, tenor man Bob Malach and trumpeter Scott Wendholt to play such demanding music, but that may be what keeps them coming back for more.