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Michael McGraw's Kansas City Boulevard Big Band has, since 1989, been a fixture in the area's jazz community, releasing three previous albums and earning both popular and critical acclaim. Live at Harlings Upstairs, which removes the "Kansas City from the band's name, features Southern California's renowned tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb.
Trumpeter and bandleader McGraw decided to tape two live sessions recorded in February 2006 at the famed jazz club Harlings, in Kansas City, for this album. It contains nine big band arrangements of music from composers including Irving Berlin, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Troupe, Guy Wood and McCoy Tyner.
The music is bold and brassy, and comes out swinging with a fiery burst from the woodwinds and Christlieb's sax on trumpeter Dave Aaberg's opener, "Peeve. This is followed by an old-fashioned swinging rendition of Berlin's "Cheek To Cheek, featuring a solo joust from altoist Hal Melia.
The band slows down on the beautiful ballad "My One And Only Love, but quickly picks up the pace again on Paul McKee's arrangement of Wayne Shorter's "Black Nile, containing a steamy tenor solo from the featured guest. Christlieb's performance is stellar yet tempered on Bobby Troupe's classic ballad "The Meaning of The Blues.
Other members of the band who stand out are Jay Sollenberger playing flugelhorn on "If I Only Had a Brain, trombonist Steve Dekker on Lou Marini's "Alone, and Aaberg on the finale, "It's Not About You. Nevertheless it is tenorist Christlieb who provides the main course in serving a slew of delicious sax solos, and none as tasteful as on McCoy Tyner's "The Search for Peace.
As live performances go you will hear some clapping and the inevitable voice captured by the mike, but this actually adds to the real excitement of the recording and does not detract, in any measurable way, from the quality of the band's performance. Any way you look at it, the sound is pure big band delivered with a riveting pulse provided by Pete Christlieb and the first-rate caliber of musicians that make up this wonderful ensemble.
Track Listing: Peeve; Cheek to Cheek, My One and Only Love; Black Nile; The Meaning of The Blues; If I Only Had a Brain; Alone; The Search for Peace; It's Not About You.
Personnel: Michael McGraw: leader, trumpet; Danny O'Brein: trumpet (1, 2, 5, 7-9); Jay Sollenberger: trumpet (2-4, 6, 7, 9); Dave Aaberg: trumpet (2, 4, 6, 7, 9); Fred Mulholland: trumpet (1, 3, 4, 7, 8); Steve Molloy: trumpet (1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9); Al Pearson: trumpet (3, 5-7, 9); Hal Melia: reeds; Phil Brenner: reeds; Pete Christlieb: reeds; Aaron Simcox: reeds; James Issac: reeds; Steve Dekker: trombone; Paul Roberts: bass trombone (3, 8); Roger Wilder: piano; Rob Whitsitt: guitar; Tim Brewer: bass; Todd Strait: drums.