Resonance Big Band / Sammy Nestico-SWR Big Band / Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra / Alf Clausen Jazz Orchestra
Of course, if writing for a big band, it's always good to have a helpmate as talented as the SWR ensemble whose interpretations of Nestico's notes on paper are consistently unsullied. The sectional give-and-take is impressive, the various soloists clever and charming. And as is always the case with the SWR's recordings, production values are superb, the playing time an exceedingly generous 76:50. Speaking of soloists, Rader (trumpet on "Not Really the Blues" and "King Porter," flugel on "D'Ann" and "Rare Moment") is one of the frontrunners. The fluent pianist Klaus Wagenleiter is featured on the picturesque "Song for Sarah" [Vaughan], the trombone section (with bassist Decebal Badila) on "The Four of Us." Others who embrace the moment include alto Klaus Graf, tenors Andi Maile and Axel Kuhn (flute on "Orchids and Butterflies"), trumpeter Karl Farrent, lead trombonist Marc Godfroid, baritone Pierre Paquette (clarinet on "Barbecue") and guitarist Klaus-Peter Schopfer. There's even a dapper bassoon solo by guest artist Libor Sima on Nestico's amiable "New Day," one of two selections (thanks to technical support) on which two "bands" play simultaneously (the other is "Bye Bye Blues"). Drummer Guido Joris, who has replaced Holger Nell, anchors the band's sure-handed rhythm section.
Even though Nestico abides securely on canonical big-band turf, plowing no new ground, Fun Time is exactly that, an unreservedly upbeat and pleasurable voyage from end to end. The album marks Nestico's third collaboration with the WDR Big Band, and the inescapable verdict is that they make a wonderful team.
Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra
Where or When
According to Brent Wallarab, when he and Mark Buselli formed the Indianapolis-based Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra in 1994, their idea "was that of an entirely instrumental group." Then along came baritone Everett Greene. "There are many competent vocalists who aspire to sing with a big band," Wallarab writes in the liner notes to Where or When, "but artists like Everett are one in a million." And so it is that Greene is the singer of record on eight of thirteen selections on the B-WJO's newest CD, with guest vocalist Cynthia Layne featured on three others.
Whether Greene is "one in a million" is debatable; what isn't is that he's an excellent singer, his mellow yet resonant voice reminiscent of such other class acts as Johnny Hartman, Ernie Andrews, Andy Bey and Billy Eckstine. Greene, whose phrasing and rhythmic awareness are near-flawless, is definitely a pleasure to hear, which can't be said about many big-band vocalists. Layne is another gem. Any quarrel about her inclusion is not with Layne but with the choice of her material ("L-O-V-E," "Avalon," "Teach Me Tonight"). While none is distasteful, neither are they anywhere near the lofty benchmarks set by "My Romance," "Where or When," "I'll Be Around," "This Can't Be Love," "My Foolish Heart" or Greene's other showcases. The impression lingers that he's been given the main course, Layne the leftovers. On the other hand, Layne digests admirably whatever is on the table, leaving no cause for displeasure.
There are two instrumentalsBenny Carter's "Wonderland," Vincent Youmans / Billy Rose's "More Than You Know"the first featuring Buselli's flugelhorn and tenor Rob Dixon, the second Wallarab's trombone. The ensemble lies midway between a small group and big band, using two trumpets, two trombones, bass trombone, three saxophones, French horn and rhythm section. Its makeup (and most of the charts), Wallarab writes, were "influenced somewhat by the ensembles of [sic] Mary Paiche" (a.k.a. Marty Paich). Wallarab arranged everything but "Teach Me Tonight" (Buselli) and "My Foolish Heart" (Jason Miller).
As big-band albums with vocalists go, Where or When stands head and shoulders above many others, thanks in large measure to the singular artistry of Greene and Layne. The B-WJO's partnership with Greene has been remarkably successful. Even so, we'd welcome a return to the all-instrumental concept by an exemplary ensemble that clearly deserves its place in the sun.
St. Johns River City Band
Silver Threads denotes growing older only in the sense that it marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Northern Florida's foremost large jazz ensemble, the St. Johns River City Band, which is many seasons removed from being past its prime. Formed in 1984 by Ira Koger, the non-profit SJRCB is comprised of professional and part-time musicians from the Jacksonville area and beyond. In 1985, the band was named Jacksonville's Official Band, and in 1992 Florida's Official Band by order of the state legislature.