Review by Brad Walseth
Bandmates in the Stan Kenton Orchestra in the early '70s, veteran drummer Peter Erskine and high-powered trumpeter Tim Hagans reunite for an exemplary big band session with the Norrbotten (Sweden) Big Band of which Hagans is musical director. The hard work Hagans has put in is quite evident, as his group of Scandinavian musicians play the heck out of their instruments. Expressing a mission to perform original music with incredible soloists, the band burns their way through four of Erskine's compositions, as well as three of Hagans', with numerous solo spots, including several for Erskine and Hagans who both play with technique and fire.
Erskine is one of the primary drummers of the last several decades, having played with an absolutely unbelievable Whos Who of modern jazz (and other) music. Besides Kenton, Erskine played with Maynard Ferguson, Steps Ahead, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius, Bob Mintzer's Big Band, The Yellowjackets, Kurt Elling, Joni Mitchell, Diana Krall (and husband Elvis Costello), Steely Dan, Miroslav Vitous, Jan Garbarek, Mike Stern, John Scofield, John Abercrombie, Bill Frisell, Kenny Wheeler, numerous orchestras, and has been a bandleader himself. Perhaps best known for his stint in the seminal fusion band Weather Report during their glory years, Erskine is also an author of several drum books as well as professor at the University of Southern California and a teacher at the Royal Academy of music in London. Besides this release, he recently released a trio recording of standards on his Fuzzy Music label with longtime collaborator pianist Alan Pasqua and bassist Dave Carpenter called (appropriately enough) "Standards."
Fans of modern mainstream drumming will thrill to hear the master Erskine put on a virtual clinic on big band drumming, propelling the band forward, moving from powerful straight-ahead beats to a slow burn to Latin-styled fills to Afro-beats seamlessly, while also taking tasteful solo turns that prove you donít have to destroy your audience's eardrums to play a drum solo. At times there are so many rhythms and counter rhythms being played so easily it is hard to believe it is one drummer who is in command.
Meanwhile Hagans may not be as well known among the general public, but his work with Joe Lovano, Maria Schneider, Thad Jones, Marc Copland, Bob Belden, Steps Ahead and the Yellowjackets has always been first rate. His solos here are infused with kinetic energy and hopefully will bring him more exposure for his fine playing. His arrangements, as well as the Bill Dobbins ones for most of Erskine's compositions, are bopping and swing hard. The arrangements are accessible but hardly cliched. There are some really nice twists and turns involved, and again the playing by the Swedish musicians is a revelation and evidence of Jazz's universal appeal. Tenor saxophonist Mats Garberg, pianist Daniel Tilling and guitarist Ola Bengtsson are among the local musicians that made an immediate impression, but they are all surprisingly skilled. Highly recommended not only for drummers, but also for those listeners looking for interesting modern big band music.