Personnel: The SWR Big Band; Toshiko Akiyoshi (piano); Klaus Graf (flute, clarinet, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone); Andi Maile (flute, clarinet, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); Axel Kuhn (flute, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone); Frank Wellert, Felice Civitareale, Claus Reichstaller, Karl Farrent (trumpet, flugelhorn); Ian Cumming, Ernst Hutter, Marc Godfroid (trombone).
Audio Mixer: Manfred Deppe.
Recording information: SWR U-Musik-Studio, Villa Berg, Stuttgart, Germany.
Photographers: Felix Gaubatz; Karl Farrent.
Translator: Karl Farrent.
Arranger: Toshiko Akiyoshi.
A number of artists have guested with the SWR Big Band in Europe for record dates, but the appearance of pianist/composer Toshiko Akiyoshi is definitely a special meeting. Having broken up her own big band a few years prior to these 2007 sessions after finding it difficult to get sufficient opportunities to record and perform, her demanding bop charts inspire this all-star European orchestra. On this occasion, the band devotes two CDs to recording their guest's charts. Starting with her "Drum Conference (3rd Movement)," a lively bop reworking of the standard "After You've Gone," it is clear that the band is on fire. The influence of Bud Powell on Akiyoshi is apparent in her driving "Harlequin's Tear" (which is also heard in a separate live rendition at the end of disc two), while her Japanese heritage is a key ingredient in the mournful "Kogun," which features flautist J?rg Kaugmann and the composer. "Let Freedom Swing" is an unusual affair, a dramatic number with spoken text read by Dagmar Claus, but also a swinging uptempo big-band instrumental. The second disc begins with the furious bop vehicle "Lady Liberty" suggesting the hustle and bustle of New York City. "Pollination" is another haunting Japanese theme, featuring Kaufman again on flute and alto saxophonist Klaus Graf. She revisits her lively bossa nova "Warning! Success May Be Hazardous to Your Health" in a sterling performance by the SWR Big Band. Even though Toshiko Akiyoshi is no longer working regularly with her big band, these 2007 sessions with the talented European all-stars are a reminder how talented a composer, arranger, and bandleader the pianist is. ~ Ken Dryden