Joe Sullivan Big Band
I'll just go ahead and state the obvious: you'd have to be crazy to form a jazz big band.
It wasn't always so: in the swing era, of course, that was what people wanted to hear. That's what a jazz band was. For many decades, however, no proposition could be more exhausting than assembling and maintaining a big band. It's hard to get gigs. It's hard to keep members. There's no money in it. Really, the only reason to start a big band is the best one: because you love it and it's what you want to do.
Montréal trumpeter Joe Sullivan wants to do it. Although he's excelled in small-group jazz, both as a composer and performer, the Joe Sullivan Big Band is his baby, his labor of love: a large-ensemble jazz group that has existed and played together for over five years. A former student of Jimmy Giuffre's, a longtime member of the Vic Vogel Big Band, and a teacher in big-band orchestration and jazz composition at McGill University, Joe Sullivan knows big-band history, and you can hear it in his compositions: the ghosts of Gil Evans, George Russell, and even Woody Herman sing in the compositions on this generously-packed cd. With the exception of "Looping," by the late LaFlèche Doré (the band's first lead trumpeter), all the tunes and arrangements are Sullivan's, and one wonders just how much of the band's book this seventy-six minute album represents. Certainly, these must be some of the group's signature pieces. From the hard-accented "On the Roof" to the lovely, shimmering, kind-of-waltz "Ann," and on to "Icebreaker part I," with its stunning introduction of slow-massing layered of reeds, it's consistently fine: these are great songs with excellent charts. These songs benefit from repeated listening, however: this is an album that needs some time to be truly heard.
The musicianship, too, is very good, especially for a big band recording (large jazz groups need lots of rehearsing, a fact not always respected by record companies). This group is tight. The ensembles sound effortless, light and deft; this is a group that knows its book. The tunes give the soloists plenty of room, and for my money, the album's high point is altoist Rémy Bolduc's wonderfully Phil-Woodsy rip through "Colville Kids." It's thrilling. There are some other great solo parts, too. André White's piano solo on "Golden Arrow Suite part III," towards the end of the album, comes as a welcome treat the listener wasn't aware of wanting until now; after an hour or so of supporting the other soloists, here he is, playing one of the album's most joyous solos. That said, Alec Walkington's bass solo on the same piece is equally enjoyable.
This album is not a perfect one. Although Sullivan can't be blamed for wanting to get as much of his band's book on discespecially after their years togetherthe album is a little long and would have, perhaps, benefited from now-antiquated vinyl sequencing (this music would be best digested on four twenty-minute record sides). Sometimes, too, the band sounds too precise, if that is possible; one wishes for a little more fire, especially during some of the solos, where the rhythm section sounds like it's enjoying the soloists rather than responding to them. These qualifications in no way, however, undermine the overall quality of this album.
Joe Sullivan deserves kudos for having the fortitude to keep a big band going (anyone visiting Montréal would be well advised to see whether they're playing). With this album, we can all hear that what he is doing is much more than commendable: it's just plain good.
Janis Steprans, lead alto sax; Rémy Bolduc, alto sax; André Leroux, tenor sax & flute; Al McLean, tenor sax; Jean Fréchette, baritone sax; Jocelyn Couture, lead trumpet; Joe Sullivan, trumpet; Ron Dilauro, trumpet; Aron Doyle, trumpet; Bill Mahar, trumpet; Dave Grott, lead trombone; André Verreault, trombone; Kelsley Grant, trombone; Bob Ellis, bass trombone; Mike Berard, guitar; André White, piano; Alec Walkington, bass; Dave Laing, drums
Track Listing :
1. On the Roof 2. Icebreaker part I 3. Icebreaker part II 4. Colville Kids 5. Looping 6. Ann 7. Golden Arrow Suite part I (Flights of Fancy) 8. Golden Arrow Suite part II (Mourning Becomes the Rain) 9. Golden Arrow Suite part III (White Water) 10. Golden Arrow Suite part IV (Rumours from the Soul) 11. Pete Power