Craig Buhler: Skykomish (2009)
Reed man Craig Buhler, an educator by profession, is in every sense of the definition a West Coast jazz musician. He also serves as Musical Director of the 18-piece Stardust Big Band and as leader of the Jazz 101 comboall significant credentials to being an established jazz artist. But there is another side to this versatile musician that emerges here, drawing from his experience as a rock and gospel playing musician, with Skykomish eschewing traditional jazz compositions in favor of music from other genres, bringing them into the jazz camp through creative new arrangements.
The music from Buhler's eighth self-produced album is taken from a blues and pop foundation and cleverly reworked into a basic jazz album, which is nothing new as pop and blues songs, throughout the history of jazz, have often served as a source for new material.
On this twelve-track disc of popular music, there are pieces from pop icons including Kenny Loggins, Burt Bacharach, Gordon Lightfoot and John Lennon. Buhler, who performs on saxophones and clarinet, surrounds himself with a light ensemble, often producing a quality big band sound which is well harnessed in masking obvious pop songs with an overtly jazzy facade.
Buhler kick starts the music in a very bluesy fashion with "Roll Over Redmond," featuring the saxophonist on a flashy blues-driven solo supported by a couple of more solo shots from Thornburg and trombonist Dan Barrett. The band enters smooth jazz territory with a perky interpretation of Kenny Loggins/Michael McDonald's "What A Fool Believes," complete with another soothing touch from Buhler's tenor. The Lennon/McCartney classic, "Eleanor Rigby," has always been a somber melancholy song until now; Buhler's imaginative arrangement turning the piece into an upbeat burner that moves to a lively race horse tempo.
The leader's own "Skykomish Shuffle" gets down and dirty revealing a superb melody bolstered by an array of solos from almost every member of the band. One of the standout renditions on the disc is Stevie Wonder's "Creepin,'" where Buhler expresses himself well on clarinet. Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind" and Burt Bacharach's "Windows Of The World" are two light-centered tunes containing more of the smooth jazz texture and color that's evident throughout. The music continues largely in an upbeat style with more material from the movie 1983 movie Flash Dance ("What A Feeling"), Dionne Warwick and other pop sources.
While the music has a heavy, pop-oriented slant, the arrangements combined with the sensational performance from Buhler and crew, succeed in recasting the music in a very jazz-centric light, serving to illuminate the obvious: that Skykomish is one fine and entertaining jazz session.
Track Listing: Roll Over Redmond; What A Fool Believes; When You Believe(Prince of Egypt); Eleanor Rigby; Skykomish Shuffle; Creepin'; If You Could Read My Mind; Windows Of The World; Waiting For A Girl; Flash Dance (What A Feeling); Oh Happy Day; Save The Best For Last.
Personnel: Craig Buhler: saxophones, clarinet; Lee Thornburg: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dan Barrett: trombone; Brian Atkinson: vibes; Karen Hammack: piano; Jamie Findlay: guitar; Chris Conner: bass; Paul Kreibich: drums, percussion.