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A "convergence zone" is where winds from all over gather together to blow up a storm, which is an entirely appropriate metaphor for this tempestuous new album by composer/arranger Phil Kelly & the NW Prevailing Windsexcept that Kelly not only has those formidable winds at his command but muscular brass and rhythm as well.
The tornadic uproar begins with Kelly's tongue-in-cheek "Damp Brown Places" (apologies to Stephen Foster) and doesn't subside until trumpeter Jay Thomas, tenor Pete Christlieb, pianist Pat Coil and the band have finished raiding "The Refrigerator." In all, eight of Kelly's impressive compositions (including the best known, "Sweet Georgia Upside Down") are performed by his stalwart ensemble, with Joe LaBarbera's loving tribute to the late Conte Candoli, "Bella Luce," and the standard "You and the Night and the Music" sandwiched midway between them.
One of the themes, "Yada Yada," sounds as though it could have been checked out almost intact from the Sammy Nestico/Count Basie library. The others are pure Kelly, including two ("Cuzn Bubba Luvz Ewe," "Refrigerator") that use a rhythm section imported from Nashville via software files with horn parts cleverly positioned around it and Christlieb and Bill Ramsay overdubbing the reed section. The results are so seamless it's hard to imagine that that everyone wasn't seated together in the same recording studio.
There's one brief respite along the way, the gracious "Kathy's Waltz," featuring Ramsay's soulful alto with programmed strings; the rest is breathtaking big-band fireworks punctuated by warm-blooded solos, chiefly by Christlieb and Thomas, who share the spotlight not only on "Cuzn Bubba," "Refrigerator" and "Yada Yada," but with drummer Gary Hobbs on "Damp Brown Places" and trombonist Dan Marcus on "Sweet Georgia." Thomas also pours heart and soul into his soliloquy on "Bella Luce."
Other prominent soloists include baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan (with Christlieb and Marcus) on "Subztatoot Shuffle" and trombonist Andy Martin with tenor Jim Coile, trumpeter Vern Seilert and pianist John Hansen on "You and the Night," Ramsay, Thomas, pianist Butch Nordal, trombonist Gary Shutes, alto Travis Ranney and bassist Chuck Deardorf on Kelly's "O.T.B.S." (which stands for "old time blues... expletive"). Speaking of Hobbs and Deardorf, they anchor a shrewd and sinewy rhythm section that provides an unerring compass and keeps everyone marching in close formation. Big-band albums this rewarding don't come along very often.
Track Listing: Damp Brown Places; Cuzn Bubba Luvz Ewe; Subztatoot Shuffle; Sweet Georgia Upside Down; Bella Luce; You and the Night and the Music; Yada Yada; O.T.B.S.; Kathy?s Waltz; The Refrigerator (65:11).
Personnel: Phil Kelly, leader, composer, arranger; Brad Allison, Jay Thomas, Paul Baron, Vern Seilert, trumpet, flugelhorn; Andy Martin, Gary Shutes, trombone; Dan Marcus, trombone, tuba; Nelson Bell, bass trombone; Bill Ramsay, Travis Ranney, Pete Christlieb, Jim Coile, Gary Smulyan, reeds; John Hanson, Butch Nordal, piano; Chuck Deardorf, bass; Gary Hobbs, drums. Rhythm section on ?Bubba? and ?Refrigerator? -- Pat Coil, piano; Mark Baldwin, guitar; Craig Nelson, electric bass (?Bubba?); Gerald Stockton, electric bass (?Refrigerator?); Paul Leim, drums. Matt Bennett, string programming.