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The Monks Progress by Lungau Big Band

The monk who is the subject of this intriguing big band release is not Thelonious but the "Monk of Salzburg." This monk lived in the late Middle Ages, and is described in the early music web site, "Here of a Sunday Morning" as a minnesinger (troubadour) and composer who wrote over forty religious pieces in addition to his secular repertoire. These arrangements of his melodies for the Lungau Big Band were commissioned by the government of Salzburg.

This seventeen-piece orchestra was founded in 1983 and is made up of players from Lungau, in the Austrian Alps, Salzburg, Graz, Vienna and Munich. In the Austrian tradition, the musicians are well-trained and the band's musicianship is superb. They have appeared at Montreux, where Mike Zwerin of the International Herald Tribune termed them as accomplished as the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis band. Bobby Shew, Ron McConnell, Randy Brecker and Bob Mintzer have been their guests. The Lungau Big Band has issued a number of albums and been the subject of a documentary. That's their resume in part. The important thing is that they can really play ... and you won't have to know anything about the monk's music to appreciate their creativity!

The Lungau Big Band is an orchestra of colors and contrasts, rather than section call and response. Most of the arrangements are by Robert Friedl who is also an eloquent soloist on alto and soprano. His "Modification" is a strong opener. In its solemn beginning, the second track, "The Monk's Passion," may remind you of the Gil Evans/Miles Davis collaborations, although Juraj Bartos on flugelhorn has a sound of his own. Then the mood changes as pianist Burkhard Frauenlob (who contributed two arrangements) swings out and builds passion. The song ends in quiet contemplation. That arrangement is indicative of what is going on throughout. Tones and rhythmic variations are used to set many moods from chart to chart and within individual tracks.

"Monasterio," with its Latin beat, gives drummer Philipp Kopmajer his only solo opportunity. However, percussion is emphasized in many of the compositions and Kopmajer is always in the mix but never in the way. "Lebenslange Sehnsucht" means "lifelong longing" and that is communicated by Kurt Gersdorf's sensitive tenor solo.

It seems to me that there is purpose in the order of this program. The next three tracks present the joyful side of the monk as the influences move from jazz waltz to funk to Caribbean. Then there's "Peace of Mind" with its air of mystery but with a frenetic interlude and Friedl on soprano. Friedl is a strong believer in music, particularly improvisation, being the ultimate in communication. His boppish closer, "The Maze," allows plenty of opportunity for just that with virtuoso performances by guest artist Christian Maurer on tenor. Gernot Strebl on bari, Robert Bachner on trombone and Alexander Meik on bass. Meik's solo is an interesting display of technique and understatement.

The early music web site I referred to earlier indicated that some of the monk's pieces were marked "gut zu blasen" (good for blowing). This innovative Lungau Big Band CD is not only a tribute to the "Monk of Salzburg" ... but a testimonial to his perception!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Lungau Big Band
  • CD Title: The Monks Progress
  • Genre: Big Band / Swing
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: LBB
  • Rating: Five Stars
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