NAJA LINER NOTES The North Atlantic Jazz Alliance (NAJA) became reality when pianist Markus Burger, born in Germany but living in Southern California since 2003, worked with the Goethe Institute to form a new band that would be comprised of three Germans and four Americans. "Jim Linahon and I both teach at Fullerton College," says the pianist. "After I told him that the Institute would underwrite the project, he proposed the other three Americans. That is how Paul Kreibich, Marshall Hawkins and Bill Yeager became involved. From Germany are Jan von Klewitz, a close collaborator for 20 years and Michael Schiefel whom Jan has worked with the last 10 years". When one listens to this recording, it sounds as if all of the musicians had been playing together for years as a group rather than just a relatively short time, but that is due to their versatility, experiences and ability to fit into any musical situation while still sounding like themselves. Pianist-composer Markus Burger had already led six CDs, ranging from a set of melodic solos (Ultreya) to jazz adaptations of classical pieces. Jan von Klewitz, heard throughout this set on alto, has a long resume including associations with such avant-gardists as Albert Mangelsdorff, Alexander von Schlippenbach and Evan Parker, but he also has his own identity in straight-ahead jazz. Singer Michael Schiefel's voice has been heard in settings from funk and classical to Eastern European folk music, but his skilled wordless improvisations show that he can hold his own with any horn player. As if developing his own appealing style as a jazz trumpeter was not enough, Jim Linahon has recorded classical music and produced over 300 projects for a wide variety of top performers. Bill Yeager has appeared on a countless number of sessions as a studio and jazz trombonist in addition to formerly leading the Los Angeles Jazz Workshop. Bassist Marshall Hawkins played with Miles Davis in 1968 and his resume includes important associations with Eddie Jefferson, Richie Cole, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson and Pharaoh Sanders in addition to being the musical director and co-founder of the Idyllwild Music in the Pines Festival. Paul Kreibich toured the world as pianist Gene Harris' drummer for five years and has played with virtually every major jazz musician and singer who has passed through Los Angeles during the past 20 years. In addition to all of this experience, each of the members of the North Atlantic Jazz Alliance are well-respected educators with Markus Burger, Jim Linahon and Paul Kreibich teaching at Fullerton College (Burger also teaches at Los Angeles City College), Bill Yeager being the Director of Jazz Studies at San Diego State University, Marshall Hawkins working as the head of Jazz Studies at the Idyllwild Arts Academy, and Michael Schiefel and Jan von Klewitz teaching in Germany. The opening number, Jan von Klewitz's "Kalimba," begins with Michael Schiefel scat-singing over a rhythmic vamp. There are fine spots by Schiefel, Linahon, von Klewitz and Kreibich, with a brief melody led by Schiefel's voice acting as a transition between solos. It is clear, listening to this one selection that, even this early in it's development, the North Atlantic Jazz Alliance had it's own sound. "River Child," a medium-tempo ballad by Burger, has solos by the composer and Schiefel with Yeager displaying some very impressive technique. The trombonist's "Bangkok Bop" is a happy change-of-pace, a beboppish original based on the chords of "Just Friends" that features the three horns, Schiefel and Burger on spirited solos along with a tradeoff with Kreibich. Of all of the originals on this CD, Markus Burger's "Beginning Of A Love Affair" might have the best chance of becoming a standard in the future. The exotic melody is quite haunting, there is a mysterious feel to the chord structure, and this rendition has memorable spots for Schiefel's vocalizing (assisted by Linahon's muted trumpet), von Klewitz and Yeager. "Bonk" (also by Burger) has some dissonant playing by the ensemble and adventurous statements by the pianist and the altoist. Linahon's "Night Flight" captures the feel of a Horace Silver piece, being boppish, but with a Latin tinge. One of the obvious highpoints on this program is Burger's "The Truth Is Spoken Here," a wistful ballad that is a piano-trombone duet. Both of the players create improvisations that are logical parts of the piece with Yeager's closing cadenza being particularly noteworthy. This enjoyable set concludes with Kreibich's "Mr. In Between," a hard bop piece with complex harmonies and a chance for Hawkins to stretch out on bass. Considering the diversity and consistent high-quality of this exciting set of music, it seems only a matter of time before the North Atlantic Jazz Alliance becomes an international favorite in the jazz world. Scott Yanow, author of nine jazz books including "Swing", "Bebop", "Trumpet Kings", "Jazz On Film" and "Jazz On Record 1917-76"
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