After a minute or so of listening to the opening dyptic ("Briar/Southwesterly"), some might look at the record jacket, unsure of whether this is the record playing. Actually, things start with guest soloist Michael Moore wistfully playing his always dependable licorice stick, first alone, then joined by a backing trio. Only halfway through does the Hamburg NDR big band make its first entrance, with muted trumpets emphasizing the mood, the rest of the band joining the proceeding to close off the number. This subdued feel permeates the following two cuts, "Igor" and "Anomalous Soul", the former allowing for a few free form episodes within the chart. From thereon in, the proceedings start building steam, the charts more involved, notably on "Odin" (track 5). A brief through-composed three clarinet interlude ("Fogo von Slack") offers a short respite before the final and most exciting stretch of the album. After a decidedly Ellingtonish Shotgun Wedding comes a buoyantly orchestrated "Providence", then a tuneful "Trouble House" (that Moore's rightly qualifies as 'Dylan-esque'), all topped off by the album's title track "Sanctuary", a rousing closer with the guest reminding us how great a clarinetist he is (and bass clarinetist on this number).
An ICP Orchestra mainstay, the native California reedist has made Amsterdam his home for a good four decades. Notwithstanding that association, he has put together a host of small groups over the years, documenting many of them on his own label Ramboy (named after his son). All ten pieces included here are not new, but re-arrangements of originals played on other recordings (specified in his liner notes). For the occasion, he has written six charts for this stellar radio orchestra (that only plays jazz... imagine having that on our side of the Big Pond?...), the remaining four assigned to three arrangers, each one expertly crafted and impeccably performed. While the musical fare is very much in keeping with a contemporary orchestral jazz idiom, it might strike some as lacking somewhat in daring, at least in comparison to ICP standards, yet it is still engaging enough in its way of building momentum over the course of its 65 minute running time. If the first few tracks are like appetizers, they are there to whet the appetite before the main courses get dished out, dessert included.
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