The title of this album is a bit off the mark, implying that the session will be pretty much devoted to up-tempo traditional jazz. Not so. While there are barnburners, they are balanced with very good melodic ballad renderings. Even the up-tempo material has character and substance, not at all like the mindless blowing that one finds too often in CD bins these days.
Jesper Thilo is Denmark's most famous sax man, and one of its most prominent jazz players irrespective of instrument. Living in Denmark, he's had the opportunity to perform with many top-flight jazz musicians. With its traditional support of jazz, that country has always been a favorite spot for top American musicians to visit and, for several, to settle in. Basically, Thilo is from the same Lester Young school for tenors as Brew Moore, who was a resident of Copenhagen during the last years of his life. But Thilo's playing also acknowledges the influences of Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Ben Webster, and Johnny Hodges. His Hodges-like rendition of "Old Folks" is one of Strike Up the Band's highlights. Thilo's work on this album is masterful and inventive throughout. His "Willow Weep for Me" is tender and expressive as he blows new life into Ann Ronell's classic.
Thilo is fortunate to have the services of equally outstanding and experienced players who possess more than their share of improvisational talent. The group has a lot of fun with the melody line of "Strike Up the Band." The blues tune "Topsy" is played at medium tempo, recalling the version by Ike Quebec's Swing Seven in 1945. Australian Bob Barnard shows that he is as skillful on cornet as on trumpet, as amply demonstrated on "After You've Gone" and "Someday You'll Be Sorry." The inestimable Swiss piano player Henri Chaix provides some special solo moments and also sets the pace for the ensemble. His intro to "There's No You" shows how much can be said in a scant few bars. This session must have been one of Chaix' last prior to his death in 1999. The other two members of the rhythm section, Stephen Kurmann on bass and Romano Cavicchiolo on drums, perform their duties with distinction.
Encouraged by an enthusiastic and delighted audience in Baden, Switzerland, the players extend themselves with a program of solid straight-ahead jazz done with feeling and humor. The tradition of those great tenor sax players who understood the importance of swing and melody is alive and well with Jesper Thilo. Recommended.