Millennium Bug Orchestra directed by Mirko Guerrini 
(Il Popolo del Blues)

The first-ever album length tribute to Oliver Nelson by Italy’s Millennium Bug Orchestra celebrates the composer’s best-known work (“Stolen Moments,” “Six Million Dollar Man”) and signature arrangements (“Night Train,” “St. Louis Blues”). Features Mirko Guerrini (sax), Nico Gori (sax), Anthony Poole (guitar), Mario Piacentini (el.-piano) and Alberto Marsico (organ).

Oliver Edward Nelson (1932-1975) possessed one of most characteristic sax sounds in jazz history. But evidence of his writing – which far exceeds examples of his playing – endures with an equally distinguished identity. His compositions and arrangements, consistently engaging and melodic, succeeded in wedding a natural love for jazz with an ability and understanding of classical composition. Indeed, the Oliver Nelson sound has grown to become one of the most distinctive and revered orchestral sounds in jazz and his arrangements are sought after more than a quarter of a century following his sad, premature death.

Here, in the first-ever album length tribute to Oliver Nelson’s music, Italy’s Millennium Bug Orchestra focuses on the composer and arranger’s bluesier side. The tribute journeys through many facets of Nelson’s best-known work: from the traditional (“St. Louis Blues”) and crowd-pleasing (“Night Train”) to the polemic (“Black, Brown & Beautiful”) and eternal (“Stolen Moments”). Even Nelson’s famed TV theme to “Six Million Dollar Man” is visited upon here, much to the Orchestra’s credit, with a particularly well-conceived reading in blue.

Arranger and conductor Mirko Guerrini – who’s also the remarkable soloist on “Stolen Moments” and “St. Louis Blues” – tackles these charts with aplomb. There’s reverence in the delivery, but never an attempt to be slavishly imitative. Take the plugged-in piano and guitar heard throughout. Neither figures prominently in Nelson’s own work. Here, both serve as an integral ingredient of the program’s success. Consider, too, the arresting solos of Nico Gori (“Black Brown & Beautiful”) and organist Alberto Marsico (“Blues And The Abstract Truth,” “Hobo Flats”). Both honor the legacy of their predecessors (Nelson, Jimmy Smith) while delivering individual statements overflowing with character – something Nelson himself would have appreciated.

It’s the measure of success to any tribute. The interpretation maintains a personality distinct from the subject that’s being celebrated and explored. The Millennium Bug Orchestra offers a fresh approach to Oliver Nelson and reminds us of the many gifts the composer and arranger gave to jazz in such a short time.

Douglas Payne
October 2001  

Douglas Payne is author, editor and researcher of the Oliver Nelson discography at www.dougpayne.com/nelson.htm.