Mike Vax Big Band / Dave Siebels / Phil Woods / London Horn Sound
As none of the songs was presumably recorded at the same time, the sound is inescapably variable but seldom less than acceptable. As for Dossett's themes, they are for the most part pleasing albeit a few marks short of memorable. On the other hand, one must concede that the album gathers momentum as it moves forward, and that the four numbers following the abbreviated four-part "Suite for Bassett Hound" are its most impressive components. The last two, "Black Crystal" and "The Never-ending Blues," were recorded in concert, presumably by Fischer's band. They, along with "The Lonely Immortal" and "White Fawn" (which may also have been taken from live performances with applause expunged), swing hard and often, with robust statements by the unnamed soloists.
On the earlier numbers, Dossett favors a heavy-duty rock-influenced back beat to underline charts that sometimes veer toward the realm of "smooth jazz" while never actually crossing the divide, coming perhaps closest on track three, "My Search for Love," a feature for trumpet (or flugelhorn) and strings whose unhurried opening and closing testimony encloses a buoyant midsection. "Bassett Hound" is not without its charming moments either, especially on the lyrical third movement, "Easy Life."
In sum, this is a respectable if uneven glance at one writer's approach to big band jazz composition and arranging. There's no doubt that Dossett is talented, or that his essays are admirable, especially the last four. The sound, as noted, isn't state of the art, which some may find off-putting, but once past that liability the music is for the most part earnest and persuasive. Definitely worth a listen.
Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra
As is true of many contemporary composers, bassist Pedro Giraudo writes with specific images in mind, in this case el viaje (the voyage), which, he writes, "can be about the landscape, about the destination, or the pure pleasure of movement." There's a little of all of them in the four-movement centerpiece of Giraudo's ambitious odyssey, on which he uses to their utmost the talents of his dozen teammates. The voyage opens leisurely on the wings of Jess Jurkovic's solo piano, unwraps the brass and reeds for an invigorating gallop, segues into a funky Latin tempo that devolves into an entrancing ballad, then ramps up the heat for a brisk canter to journey's end behind Will Vinson's full-bodied alto sax.
Guest Alejandro Aviles' clarinet sets the tone on the rhapsodic "Yarulina," on which Jurkovic also solos nicely. "Nachgeschmack," which follows, is a sturdy vehicle that smoothly enfolds trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt's pensive solo, while the ardent "Punto de Partida" provides solo space for trombonist Ryan Keberle and alto Todd Bashore. The voyage ends solemnly at "Hiroshima," whose tender theme is underscored by Carl Maraghi's bass clarinet. The album opens with trombones, ensemble and Giraudo's arco bass setting the stage for Avila's alto sax on "El Bajonazo," which, the leader says, describes the "deep excitement, fear and anxiety" the accompanied the news that he and his wife, Marianela, were expecting their first child.
Throughout El Viaje, Giraudo shows that he has mastered the fundamentals of writing for a large ensemble, keenly using dynamics, color and shifts in tempo to ensure one's heedfulness. The undersized ensemble is tight and steady, the soloists earnest and enaging. If some of Giraudo's tone poems overstep their spatial boundaries, that lapse is easily pardoned. The music, as noted, is resolutely modern, and should prove eminently pleasing to those whose voyage pursues that course.
Southside Johnny with LaBamba's Big Band
While listening for the first time to Grapefruit Moon, vocalist Southside Johnny's earnest tribute to singer / songwriter Tom Waits, I was wondering with whom to best compare Johnny's husky, gravel-throated style. When Waits himself made a guest appearance on "Walk Away," the answer became obvious. He and Johnny sound like two peas in a pod, almost as if they could have issued forth from the same womb. Little wonder that Waits is not only Johnny's favorite songwriter but an old friend as well.
Johnny is accompanied on the album, recorded in four sessions, by trombonist / arranger Richie "LaBamba" Rosenberg's big band (or, more accurately, bands, as the personnel varies from session to session), comprised of a number of first-rate sidemen and women from the Pennsylvania / New Jersey area. The ensemble plays well in its backup role, providing ample power and elegance to complement Johnny's brusque, bluesy vocals. LaBamba's full-bodied charts are well-suited to their purpose, which is to house Johnny in the best possible surroundings.