Groove Troopers

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Big bands didn't totally disappear from the jazz world after World War II, but they did become the exception instead of the rule. For every big band that surfaced in the '50, '60s, '70s, '80s, or '90s,…
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Big bands didn't totally disappear from the jazz world after World War II, but they did become the exception instead of the rule. For every big band that surfaced in the '50, '60s, '70s, '80s, or '90s, there were countless trios, quartets, and quintets. It all comes down to economics; hiring five or six musicians is cheaper than hiring 15 or 18. Nonetheless, noteworthy big bands continued to be formed in the 21st century; one of them was the Groove Troopers, a Dutch outfit led by composer/producer/pianist Martin Fondse. Most of the big bands in Holland play straight-ahead or avant-garde acoustic jazz; the Groove Troopers, however, have a jazz-funk/crossover jazz outlook and use some electric instruments (including keyboards and electric bass). And in contrast to all the big bands that are modeled after the Buddy Rich or Count Basie orchestras, the Groove Troopers have been influenced by post-'60s Herbie Hancock, electric Miles Davis, producer Creed Taylor's CTI Records catalog, and even Sade (at least on the vocal offerings).

But while Sade is essentially an urban contemporary singer with jazz overtones (much like Anita Baker, Samantha Siva, or Erykah Badu), the singing that vocalist Vera Westera does for the Groove Troopers is the opposite -- it's jazz with a strong R&B influence. With the Groove Troopers, Fondse features Westera in much the same way that Count Basie featured Joe Williams or Jimmy Rushing and Duke Ellington featured Ivie Anderson -- in other words, Fondse uses her some of the time but not all of the time. Fondse employs Westera on certain vocal numbers, but there are also plenty of Groove Troopers instrumentals that give members of the band a chance to solo. So with the Groove Troopers, Fondse can -- like Basie, Ellington, or Benny Goodman during the swing era -- turn the spotlight on either a horn player or a vocalist.

When Fondse founded the Groove Troopers in 2000, he had a long resumé in the Netherlands that included, among other things, leading his own Martin Fondse Oktemble (an octet that goes back to 1992) and writing material for Dutch artists who include cellist Ernst Reijseger, trumpeter Eric Vloeimans, and the Metropole Orchestra (one of Holland's top big bands). In addition to Fondse and singer Westera, the Groove Troopers' lineup has included relative Maurits Fondse (acoustic piano, electric keyboards, organ), Angelo Verploegen (trumpet), Rink Swinkels (trumpet), Mete Erker (tenor sax), Miguel Boelens (alto sax, baritone sax), Guido Nijs (tenor sax), Louk Boudenteijn (trombone), Jeroen Rol (trombone), Eric van der Westen (acoustic and electric bass), Sander Hop (electric guitar), Jan Stavenuiter (drums, percussion), and Makki van Engelen (drums). In late 2002 and early 2003, the Groove Troopers recorded their debut album, Zoom Zoo, which was released on JJ-Tracks (a label that Holland's Challenge Records started in 2003 to explore musical areas outside of straight-ahead jazz).