How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
The saxophones come prowling out, darkly, on "Essential Trivia," the opening track on Pag's Groove. Then the bass and vibes lighten the feeling, and the Michael Pagán Big Band starts the show off swinging. Gorgeous tones prevail, vivid colors splashing all over the charts. Composer/arranger/bandleader Michael Pagán's arrangements use a palette that includes all the colors, bright hues over grey washes, or twining, tapestry style, in and out of the deeper toned threads. It's hard to nail down his influences. Probably they're just too wide-ranging, too inclusive (though Ellington certainly figures in the mix); but the arrangements are lively, swinging animals, with a nice harmonic depth and a whole bunch of well-placed solo room.
With bold dynamics, Pagán has crafted an original and compelling big band sound. The band belts it out one minute, murmurs an intimate conversation the next, using deep dense harmonies that fade to horn solos in front of bass and drums, with bright dabs of piano or vibes slipped in.
The title tune brims with gorgeous soloing from trombonist John Hines and trumpeter Garner Pruitt as Pagán's composition pays tribute to the legendary "Bag's Groove," with vibraphonist Greg Harris in a Milt Jackson mode; listen to the leader's piano comping soft and subtle behind him.
All the tunes here are Pagán originals, except for the standard "Never Let Me Go," played with a downtempo grandeur and more layers of sound than you can pick up on just one or two listens.
A start-to-finish fine big band outing.
Track Listing: Essential Trivia; Lyric Interlude; Pag's Groove; Waltz for a Bad Hair Day; Never Let Me Go;
Crazy Man's Game; More than a Friend; We're Almost There.
Personnel: Michael Pagan: leader, piano; Pete Olstad, Brad Goode, Garner Pruitt, Al Hood, Greg
Gisbert: trumpet; Pete Lewis: alto and soprano saxophones, flute; Kurtis Adams: alto
saxophone, flute; Tom Myer: tenor, soprano saxophone; Eric McGregor: tenor saxophone;
Clare Church: baritone saxophone; Darren Kramer, John Hines, Kevin Buchanan: trombone
(1-3, 6-8); Tom Ball: trombone (4, 5), euphonium (2, 7); Matt Plummer: bass trombone;
Bill Kopper: guitar (2, 4-8); Greg Harris: vibraphone (1, 3); Bijoux Barbarosa: bass; Dave