More swinging big–band Jazz from Washington State. On the heels of Kevin Seeley’s superb Emerald City ensemble from Seattle ( Alive and Swingin',
SMP 0004) comes this two–disc set by trumpeter Rich Wetzel’s far less polished but no less earnest Groovin’ Higher Orchestra, recorded in concert at Jazzbones in Tacoma, where the band has been performing for standing–room–only audiences. As Wetzel writes in the liner notes, the concert was transcribed “exactly as it happened, the way Jazz was meant to be heard, raw and uncut. . . No punch–ins, no ‘pull this track up or down,’ no re–do’s, just go for it, in the moment, just as it should be.” There’s no doubt, as Wetzel says, that this is “a live gig, baby!” As such, however, it suffers the handicaps that any live recording is in danger of encountering such as poor balance, generally muddy sound and less–than–reliable ensemble work, all of which are evident here. On the other hand, it does embody the excitement of a live performance, which, if unable to erase those shortcomings, at least moderates them to some degree. One must decide for himself or herself what is most important in a big–band album and respond appropriately. I found the blemishes hard to overlook, especially those for which the band was most clearly responsible, as for example the wretchedly screwed up opening passages on Miles Davis’ “Four.” The sonic weaknesses were also off–putting; while I don’t know what recording apparatus was used, I’ve heard noticeably better results from hand–held tape recorders. But I hesitate to censure any band that is doing the best it can, which the Groovin’ Higher Orchestra certainly is. And in spite of the shortcomings enumerated above, the session is hardly devoid of warmth or enthusiasm. There are some top–drawer charts including several lifted from Maynard Ferguson’s book (“A Country Boy,” “Fan It Janet,” “Cruisin’ for a Bluesin’,” “Danny Boy”) and enterprising solos by tenor Teddy Dortch, trumpeter Lance Buller and alto Cliff Colon. Buller also tries his hand at singing (on “Everyday I Have the Blues”), and our advice to him is, “make sure no one cops your horn; it’s the only thing between you and a day gig.” Guest vocalist Kent Morrill is more successful on “Beyond the Sea” and “Fever” even though he manages to flub the lyric on “Sea” (hey, it was
a live performance). If forced to choose on word to sum up the GHO’s performance, that word would have to be “erratic.” But such is the nature of concerts, at least those by bands whose members don’t play together on a regular basis. Wetzel’s advice to the audience is to “keep coming out; you haven’t seen anything yet!” Let’s hope he’s right, and that the orchestra continues to gain ground. Meanwhile, we can place Live at Jazzbones!
in our files under the heading “nice try that didn’t quite make it this time.”
Personnel: Rich Wetzel, leader, lead trumpet; Lance Buller, Bobby Medina, David Lee, Parrish Sellers, Ken Peters, trumpet; Cliff Colon, Matt Townsend, alto sax; Teddy Dortch, Johnny Lewis, tenor sax; Brooke Farnsworth, baritone sax; Byron Weigel, Lee Dreisbach, Gerald Anderson, Drew Hall, trombone; Jim Mall, piano; Andy Morgan, guitar; Dave Shriver, bass; Dale Drenner, drums. Special guests Tom Pell (14