Album Remarks & Appraisals:
Retro-futuristic rocket ride and a 60s Big Band blast.... Unfortunately this exceptional orchestra never performed in public – it was a studio band. In the mid-sixties, top European musicians congregated in Munich to record background music for radio and television. The big band played compositions and arrangements written by Dr. Roland Kovac, a brilliant musician whose career began with the Vienna Boys Choir. As his career progressed, he became an “all-purpose writer and one of the big earners in popular music” (DER SPIEGEL). Kovac produced some 2000 musical works, including jazz pieces with such original titles as “Bath Water” and “Goin’ My Hemming-way”, as well as film music and advertising jingles for AEG appliances and 4711 Cologne. By the time he recorded his “Trip to the Mars” suite in 1964, Kovac had his roots in the jazz field; he was the pianist in saxophonist Hans Koller’s quintet, and was already a much sought-after big band arranger (his doctoral thesis was “Harmonic Structure in the Music of the Late Baroque Period”). Joachim-Ernst Berendt prized his music as a “uniquely independent contribution to the European scene”. Kovac’s Mars suite begins on a shrill note. It contains blues and bop passages. With the movement “Munich on the Mars”, the rocking jazz band transforms itself into a thumping brass band. There’s the kind of humor in this wide-ranging work that would work well as the soundtrack of a space or a crime series.
Liner Note Author: Hans Hielscher.
Arranger: Roland Kovac.
This dynamite 1964 big-band date by composer/arranger Roland Kovac is a highlight in a very storied career -- and one that has a unique history as well. Kovac was a renaissance man of German music. He composed and recorded music for every occasion in a wide variety of settings, from classical to jingles, from jazz to film scores. This session, betrayed hilariously by its cover, was cut to accompany an industrial film that was an advertising ploy for a nuclear power plant. Kovac had the budget to hire a slew of top flight soloists, whom he found in one place: Karl Edelman's Big Band. They include Charles Drewo on tenor, drummer Jimmy Pratt, trumpeter Jimmy Deuchar, trombonist Cliff Hardy, altoist Derek Humble, bassist Johnny Fisher, pianist Francis Coppetiers, and vibist/percussionist Stuff Combe. At the time, these cats were a who's-who of Western Europe's prized session men. The plant was never opened, and Kovac, understanding how special the session was, persuaded Saba to purchase the tapes and eventually release them on its MPS imprint. While the cover image has "space age bachelor pad" written all over it, the music is anything but. Composed as a 17-part suite, bop, blues, hard bop, and cool jazz flow throughout the tunes, while Kovac's charts are impeccable and showcase the brilliance and contrasting voices of his soloists. While the music commences with a cinematic intro theme on "Space Station 1" that recalls both Neil Hefti and Buddy Rich, it quickly evolves into a knotty, fingerpopping bop tune with colorful harmonics. "Heat" is a swinging big-band blues with a neat solo break from Deuchar. There is deliberate humor in "Munich on the Mars" that walks the tightrope between modern classical and circus music, while "Power Start" is pure, progressive big band. Another highlight, "Milky Way," is a dreamy, expressionist piece that portrays just how much beauty Kovac could evoke from both the influences of Ravel and Lester Young. Humble's, Deuchar's, Hardy's and Drewo's solos atop the repetitive horn lines and silky vibes playing are all expressive and canny. "Mooncrater" has more in common with the painterly soundscapes of Gil Evans than virtually anything coming out of Europe at the time, while "Blue Dance" underscores this with its modal blues framework. Trip to the Mars is essential not just for Kovac fans, but for anyone interested in progressive big band and '60s vintage European jazz. Perhaps the only "tragedy" here is that this group never played this music live. ~ Thom Jurek