Thanks to his enormous success over the past dozen years as a writer/arranger for film, television, and other media, Chris Walden is in a rather enviable position - able to assemble a big band comprised of blue-chip Hollywood studio musicians and couple it with the 100-member St. John's Choir from Hamburg, Germany, to present a musical rendition of sacred poems by Kurt Marti, an acclaimed lyricist who served as a priest in Switzerland until 1983. This is something that Walden, a native of Hamburg, clearly wanted to do, and no one can admonish him for that.
While the twelve-part suite is consistently buoyant and charming, its basic connection to Jazz rests largely on Walden's rhythmic/harmonic resourcefulness and on the fact that those who are playing it - the instrumentalists, that is - are Jazz musicians who make it swing. In spite of brief solos by tenor Brandon Fields ("Hotel Jesus"), Jeff Driskill (soprano on "Die Salburg," alto on "Anrufungen"), flugel Ron King ("Bitte"), and trombonist Bob McChesney ("Lichtstrahl"), the choir is ascendant, as it should be in any performance whose essential purpose is to transcribe poetry. The lyrics to each poem, by the way, are printed - in German and English - in the booklet that accompanies the album. The suite is supplemented by one full-fledged "Jazz" theme, Michael Brecker's torrid "Slings and Arrows," which thunders along behind fiery solos by Fields, guitarist Mitch Holder and drummer Dick Weller. Shoppers should keep in mind, however, that even with that "extra" track, the album's playing time is a modest 36:55, less than half a CD's maximum capacity. High marks for what this is, with a caveat that what it is not is straight-ahead contemporary big-band jazz.