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Vienna Art Orchestra: Swing & Affaris

This CD features a cross-section of the good, the bad and the ugly. You’ll see a listing that includes Franz Schubert, Johann Strauss and Erik Satie but that’s misleading. The composer-arranger that dominates is Mathias Rüegg, conductor of the Vienna Art Orchestra since its inception as a small combo in 1977 and its driving force since that combo grew into a 17-piece monster in ’88. This album has a restlessness that tends to clothe beautiful melodies in unmotivated dissonances and accompany great solos with ugly distortions.

Trombonist Robert Bachner develops some propulsive ideas in “Hobo Ho” despite interference from arranger Rüegg. When you hear Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 1” you’ll wonder, is this the same composer who created the “Gymnopodies?” For tender moments, try “‘Round Midnight” or “The Ballad of the Sad Young Men,” sung plaintively by Anna Lauvergnac. For more of the unpredictable, “Der Wegweiser” says Schubert but it might as well credit Kurt Weill. “Take the ‘A’ Train” is a good combination of writing and playing, especially by the trombone section, at accelerating speeds. Strange things happen in this album, but one has to admire the dexterity of the entire band.

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