By Cyriel Pluimakers
Henk Meutgeert (1947) is one of the best Dutch arrangers. He is most well-known for his work with The Skymasters, the Metropole Orchestra, and the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw. In 2018, he founded the 18-piece New Jazz Orchestra together with Peter Beets, a big band filled with the best talent from the Dutch conservatories. He has toured with this orchestra for the last two years and made recordings in the Bimhuis and the Concertgebouw.
They recently released their first album “The Flying Dutchman,” a production that also contains recomposed classical repertoire. Here we find Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” as well as a Mazurka by Chopin. Meutgeert is a master in jazzing up this genre in an unforced manner. Nowhere do his arrangements sound wavering or pretentious. How he changes the character of Wagner and lets Chopin swing, is proof of his great craftsmanship. The young orchestra gives extra shine to the execution of these arrangements, full of imaginative solo work from alto saxophonist Jasper van Damme on the title track.
Similarly in the arrangement of “All the Things You Are,” Van Damme is given a lot of space. There is much excitement in Beets’s intro to Chopin’s ‘Mazurka,’ a composition that is clearly close to the pianist’s heart.
The performance of Gerswin’s ‘Our Love Is Here To Stay’ is very powerful, with various inspired solos by trumpeters Suzan Veneman, Ian Cleaver and Abriel Ferreira. Pianist Beets takes it a step further with a grandiose improvisation. From the eponymous film “Portrait of Jennie,” a favorite piece of Meutgeert’s, comes a feature for trumpeter Gidon Nunes Vaz, who touches the heavens with his splendid playing. The rhythmic “Concierto Para Quinteto” is a reworking of a composition of Astor Piazzola. The moving character of the tango is artfully interwoven in the solos and the arrangement. The melancholic undertone seamlessly transitions in the closing piece “The Blues.”
The sound of this energetic orchestra with its impressive collective, is reminiscent of the legendary Kenny Clarky Francy Boland Big Band, the best jazz orchestra Europe has ever known. It has recently been announced that this splendid initiative can count on substantial financial support from the famous Jumbo supermarket chain, an example that deserves to be replicated. The Henk Meutgeert New Jazz Orchestra has a bright future!