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This is the second album I’ve encountered that promised A Perfect Match, and both have made good on that unequivocal warranty. What is “matched” herein are the invigorating compositions and arrangements of Mark Taylor and a rip-roaring big band securely anchored by drummer Steve Fidyk and comprised mainly of personnel from two of the country’s leading military ensembles, the Army Blues and Navy Commodores. It’s always a kick to hear them working so closely and so well together.
Taylor and Fidyk have been members of a mutual admiration society since Steve came to DC to take over the Blues’ drum chair, so it was all but inevitable that they’d decide one day to record an album of Taylor's music with Fidyk serving as commander-in-chief. It seemed A Perfect Match, and that is precisely how it turned out. As another pretty fair drummer, Peter Erskine, observes, “. . .the playing is superlative and the writing is great.” He is, of course, correct on both counts. From the brawny curtain-raiser, “Gorillaman Blues,” to Lieber and Stoller’s R&B smash, “Kansas City,” which showcases the band’s awesome trombone section, the collaborative enterprise is marvelously enriched by Taylor’s creative energy and Fidyk’s masterful control. Taylor composed half of the album’s ten selections, wrote all of the charts, co-authored the playful “Brush Taps” with drummer Louie Bellson, and affirms with every stroke of the pen that he is among the world’s most impressive big-band composer / arrangers. “Gorillaman Blues” is a spectacular tour de force for the ensemble, but no more so than Taylor’s “Full Count,” “Boptitude Test,” “Soft Skies” or “Granada Smoothie,” the last written for the peerless Stan Kenton Orchestra.
Not content to rest on his laurels, Taylor transforms George Shearing’s melodious “Lullaby of Birdland” into a sprightly cha cha, the usually kinetic standard “After You’ve Gone” into a sumptuous ballad. Rounding out the program is Billy Strayhorn’s mournful “Chelsea Bridge,” a sturdy platform for Bill Mulligan’s plaintive alto sax. Other featured performers are pianist Tony Nalker (“After You’ve Gone”) and trombonist Matt Niess (“Soft Skies”). They’re letter-perfect, as are the other soloists baritone Scott Silbert, trumpeter Graham Breedlove (“Gorillaman Blues”); Breedlove (flugel), Fidyk, alto Scott Weinhold (“Birdland”); bassist Jim Roberts, tenors Luis Hernandez and Joseph Henson (“Full Count”); Fidyk, trumpeter Craig Fraedrich (“Brush Taps”); Fidyk, flugel Tom Williams, trombonist Jim McFalls (“Granada Smoothie”); trombonists Niess, McFalls, Jay Gibble (“Kansas City”) and the ensemble itself, steadfastly inspired by Fidyk and lead trumpeter Liesl Whitaker. This is big-band music-making at its spine-tingling best, and if A Perfect Match doesn’t light your fire, you’d best double-check to be absolutely sure the pilot light hasn’t gone out.
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Track Listing: The Gorillaman Blues; Lullaby of Birdland; Full Count; Chelsea Bridge;
Brush Taps; Granada Smoothie; Boptitude Test; After You
Personnel: Mark Taylor, conductor, composer, arranger; Steve Fidyk, co-leader,
drums, percussion; Bill Mulligan, Scott Weinhold, Luis Hernandez,
Joseph Henson, Scott Silbert, reeds; Liesl Whitaker, Ken McGee, Graham
Breedlove, Craig Fraedrich, Tom Williams, trumpet; Matt Niess, Jim
McFalls, Jay Gibble, trombone; Jeff Cortazzo, bass trombone; Tony Nalker,
piano; Jim Roberts, bass.