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Vienna Art Orchestra: Artistry In Rhythm: A European Suite

The album title might lead a prospective buyer to believe that the CD has something to do with Stan Kenton, but the only obvious resemblance of Mathias Ruegg’s Vienna Art Orchestra to Kenton’s is in size. Ruegg composed this continuous work for his 23 musicians to reflect his impressions of 15 European capitals. Thus, the suite’s sections have titles like “Graffiti in Stockholm,” “Lucky Luxembourg,” “Helsinki Sinking in an Inky Light” and “If Athens Would Have Been Built By Atheists, You Would Have Never Seen the Parthenon,” whose title is nearly longer than the piece. The suite’s other conceit is that it maintains one tempo for more than an hour. That may sound boring, but it is not, thanks to Ruegg’s skillful use of interior time and an assortment of rhythmic structures. The tempo variations include boogaloo and funk, various manifestations of 4/4 swing, the surrealistic flamenco of “Madrid Madness” and a crippled 3/4 in the blues “When Vienna Doesn’t Walz.”

Ruegg’s writing incorporates harmonic attributes that may have been developed by Thad Jones, Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer, Bill Holman and others, but it bears the stamp of his own craftsmanship and humor, which is often off the wall. His players, from several continental countries and the U.S., chew up the demanding arrangements with elan and good humor. The CD package names the musicians, but soloists are not identified. A little detective work discloses that Tom Varner is the astonishing French horn soloist on “Buxelles ma belle” and Herwig Gradischnig the baritone saxophonist on “Helsinki.” Other first rate solos are by trumpeters Bumi Fian and Thomas Gansch and tenor saxophonist Andy Scherrer. Drummer JoJo Mayer drives the band through a shifting rhythmic landscape for 77 minutes, meeting the challenge with strength and flair, often assisted by percussionist Patrice Heral.

This music has substance. In performing it, the band reflects joy. Viva Europa.

Originally Published