Olympians (Modern Recordings)

Vince Mendoza & Metropole Orkest

Released March 3, 2023

Grammy Nominee for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album 2024





Vince Mendoza, who has won seven Grammy Awards and been nominated 36 times, reunites with his longtime collaborator Metropole Orkest, to record Olympians, a select collection of the composer/conductor’s works written for the orchestra over their 28-year collaboration. The album follows 2021’s Freedom Over Everything, his Grammy-winning debut for BMG’s Modern Recordings.

Ever the master arranger and orchestrator, Mendoza deftly explores the language of jazz, classical music, flamenco and samba, rock, and R&B and film music among others, from the vast palette of idiomatic colors he chooses for each of his compositions. To achieve that vision Mendoza requires musicians who are willing to take that journey with him.  

Born out of the ashes of World War II, Metropole Orkest (52 musicians strong) has been a major part of cultural life in the Netherlands for 75 years and remains the only full-time jazz and pop orchestra in the world. They are in high demand for concerts great and small, recordings, festivals, and tours. It’s a small wonder that Mendoza and the Metropole had such an affinity for each other’s work.

“The term ‘Olympians,’” Mendoza explains, referring to the album’s title, “is something that I use quite often while on the podium with Metropole as I feel that this orchestra continues to play difficult music with grace, enthusiasm, and accuracy, especially given the wide scope of the projects they have done over the years. They’ve really developed the ability to be comfortable with so many different styles of music which is quite unusual for an orchestra. This recording shows them at the height of their Olympian powers.”

Vocalists Dianne Reeves and Cécile McLorin Salvant, saxophonists Chris Potter and David Binney, percussionist Alex Acuña, and the late guitarist Ramón Stagnaro (playing the charango) all make guest appearances on Olympians. And for each of these musicians as well as the orchestra and its featured soloists, Mendoza crafts the ideal setting for their artistry.

 “Quixote,” the opening track on Olympians, finds Mendoza joining a long list of composers inspired by Cervantes’ epic novel that stretches from Richard Strauss to Brian Eno. Metropole Orkest, with whom Mendoza has collaborated with since 1995, is in full effect right from the downbeat. The piece showcases the composer’s flair for expressing the full range of the ensemble’s dynamics from the most solemn percussion to the transition and interplay between the lead soprano saxophone and the orchestra’s thematic variations.

“Partido Alto,” another piece illustrative of Mendoza’s use of percussion and string orchestration is based on the Brazilian rhythms from which the composition’s name is derived. It was originally conceived as a symphonic tone poem commissioned by the Henry Mancini Institute, with whom Mendoza worked for several years during its residence in Los Angeles in the 90’s. Mendoza gives “Partido Alto” a fresh and grooving treatment on Olympians complete with a rousing “samba school” brass anthem at the end.

When Mendoza won a Grammy for Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals in 2022 for his composition “To the Edge of Longing”, it simply confirmed what music fans have known, at least since “Esperança,” one of Mendoza’s most beloved compositions appeared on his 1997 recording Epiphany. The vocal version “Esperanto”, with lyrics by Kurt Elling, is loosely inspired by Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions. Mendoza’s new Olympians orchestration of “Esperanto” is a long build, taking full advantage of Reeves’ soaring multi-octave voice and vocalese, lending considerable authority to Elling’s lyrics.

Mendoza recruits Salvant for a brand-new orchestration of “House of Reflections”, a 1992 Mendoza composition with lyrics by the brilliant poet, lyricist, and British jazz vocalist Norma Winstone. The work was inspired by and in tribute to the late trumpet player Kenny Wheeler with whom both Winstone and Mendoza had worked.

Vocalists aren’t the only soloists who a beneficiaries of Mendoza’s compositional largesse. The role of the saxophonists represented on this recording is a veritable woodwind showcase – from guest altoist David Binney’s fire breathing solo on “Lake Fire” and Chris Potter’s articulate tenor on “Barcelona” to Metropole Orkest’s own Marc Scholten on soprano and alto on “Quixote” and “Miracle Child.”

There is no composer more adept than Mendoza at using devices most frequently associated with contemporary and indigenous musical genres and making them part of the language of a symphonic orchestra, albeit a jazz symphonic orchestra. Metropole Orkest’s performance of Mendoza’s compositions “Big Night,” “Barcelona,” and the live version of “Bright Lights and Jubilations,” which closes the album, are masterful in the use of the electric guitar and the back beat rhythms seamlessly integrated into an orchestral context. The hip jazz solos provided by both the guest artists and individual members of the orchestra are an absolute delight for both the audience and those musicians lucky enough to be able perform under Mendoza’s baton.

Track Listing:

1. Quixote 4:53

2. Esperanto (words by Kurt Elling) 5:50

3. Partido Alto 6:30

4. House Of Reflections (words by Norma Winstone) 5:46

5. Miracle Child 7:33

6. Big Night 6:11

7. Lake Fire 7:49

8. Barcelona 8:01

9. Bright Lights And Jubilations 7:40

Original compositions written and arranged by Vince Mendoza


Vince Mendoza: conductor, additional keyboards, percussion, whistle

Metropole Orkest

Bass: Aram Kersbergen

Bass Trombone: Bart van Gorp, Martin van den Berg

Cello: Annie Tångberg, Emile Visser, Jascha Albracht, Joel Siepmann

Double Bass: Arend Liefkes, Erik Winkelmann, Marijn Van Prooijen, Walter van Egeraat

Drums: Martijn Vink

Flute: Janine Abbas, Mariël van den Bos

French Horn: Liz Hunfeld-Chell, Pieter Hunfeld

Guitar: Peter Tiehuis (soloist 5, 6, 8, 9)

Harp: Joke Schonewille

Oboe: Maxime Le Minter

Percussion: Eddy Koopman, Murk Jiskoot

Piano: Hans Vroomans (soloist 4, 7)

Saxophone, Clarinet: David Kweksilber, Jessie Brevé, Leo Janssen (soloist 6), Marc Scholten (soloist 1, 5), Max Boeree, Paul van der Feen (soloist #9), Sjoerd Dijkhuizen

Trombone: Ilja Reijgoud, Jan Bastiani, Jan Oosting, Pablo Martinez Hernandez, Ron Oligschläger

Trumpet: Martijn De Laat, Nico Schepers, Ray Bruinsma, Rik Mol (soloist 7, 8)

Viola: Iris Schut, Isabella Petersen, Julia Jowett, Mieke Honingh, Norman Jansen, Wouter Huizinga

1st violin: Arlia De Ruiter (concertmaster, soloist 3), Denis Koenders, Federico Nathan, Gideon Nelissen, Ian De Jong, Jasper van Rosmalen, Jenneke Tesselaar, Pauline Terlouw, Sarah Koch, Vera Laporeva 2nd violin: Christina Knoll, Ewa Zbyszynska, Herman Van Haaren, Jenneke Tesselaar, Merel Jonker, Robert Baba, Ruben Margarita, Willem Kok, Xaquín Carro Cribeiro


Alex Acuña: percussion (soloist 1)

Ramon Stagnaro: charango (1)

Dianne Reeves: voice (2)

Cécile McLorin-Salvant: voice (4)

David Binney: alto saxophone (soloist 7)

Chris Potter: tenor saxophone (soloist 8)

Recorded August/September 2020, at MCO Studio 3, Hilversum NL
Except for “Bright Lights and Jubilations” recorded live September 2021 at The Theatre Carré, Amsterdam NL.
Recorded and Mixed by Tijmen Zinkhaan

Additional drum recordings at Wisseloord Studios, Hilversum, NL, by Dirk Overeem
Dianne Reeves recorded April 2021, at Rocky Mountain Recorders, Denver Colorado, by Chris McNaughton
Cécile McLorin Salvant recorded June 2021, at Bunker Studios, Brooklyn, New York, by Aaron Nevezie
Vince Mendoza additional keyboards and whistles and percussion
recorded July 2021 at Horizontal, Los Angeles, California
Alex Acuna recorded August 2021 at Alex Acuna Studios, by Kevin Clayton

Producer: Vince Mendoza

Co-producer: Martijn Vink

Mastered by Bernie Grundman

Photography by Reinout Bos

Graphic Design: Raj Naik


Eight-time Grammy-winning composer/arranger Vince Mendoza, born and raised in Norwalk, CT, has enjoyed great success overseas—in Europe, to be more precise—since releasing an album with Germany’s WDR Big Band in 1994. The following year, Mendoza began collaborating with the Dutch Metropole Orkest and in 1998 was named its principal guest conductor. Olympians is Mendoza’s third recording with the massive, string-laden Metropole. He has recorded other albums with the London and Czech Symphony Orchestras.

Here in the U.S., Mendoza has worked with a veritable who’s who of jazz and pop luminaries, from Pat Metheny to Gary Burton, Michael Brecker to Chaka Khan, John Scofield to Joni Mitchell, Al Jarreau to Bjork, earning seven Grammys for his jazz/pop orchesrations and one Latin Grammy (for the album Regencia, with Ivan Lins and the Metropole Orkest). As a showcase for Mendoza’s singular talents, Olympians works quite well. As an album that would appeal to jazz aficionados, somewhat less so.

To phrase it another way, the (mostly) studio session leans more toward classical or chamber music than contemporary jazz, in spite of generally admirable guest appearances by alto saxophonist David Binney (“Lake Fire”) and tenor Chris Potter (“Barcelona”). To be fair, the album gains momentum once past its midpoint, and there are moments of exuberance and fire on the last four numbers, underlining earnest solos by altos Marc Scholten and Paul van der Feen, tenor Leo Janssen, trumpeter Frederik Mollet, guitarist Peter Tiehuis and pianist Hans Vroomans.

Two more well-known guests, vocalists Dianne Reeves (“Esperanto”) and Cecile McLorin Salvant (“House of Reflections”), give it their best shot but are hampered by unassuming charts and lyrics whose meanings are more ambiguous than forthright. In Mendoza’s defense, writing for a 58-piece orchestra is no easy task. And he does find a more congenial groove on the last four numbers, starting with the sturdy “Big Night,” layering buoyant rhythms on the basic harmonic structure and allocating more blowing space. While the Metropole strings remain perceptible, they are much less so than earlier, even though the chamber jazz motif doesn’t entirely vanish.

As an aside, the first seven numbers on Olympians were apparently recorded in a studio, the last two (“Barcelona,” “Bright Lights and Jubilations”) in front of an audience. This is an album that is difficult to appraise or pigeonhole, as there are tangible elements of jazz embedded within its more classical/chamber persona. If the marks seem unduly high, they are for Mendoza’s undeniable skill as a composer/arranger and the Metropole’s unerring ability to enhance and clarify his purpose. Measured solely on its jazz content, the enterprise would need be rated somewhat lower.

Jack Bowers (All About Jazz)