Phil Kelly and the NW Prevailing Winds; Eric Essix and the Night Flight Big Band; University of North Texas Two O'Clock Lab Band
Phil Kelly & the Northwest Prevailing Winds
Ballet of the Bouncing Beagles
The Ballet of the Bouncing Beagles, Marius Nordal writes in the liner notes to composer / arranger Phil Kelly's latest recording, "was inspired by an actual photograph of Phil's two beagles jumping up in the air together in his backyard." Brushing aside the source, what is important is that "Beagles" is a brilliant chartas are all the others on this charming and colorful odyssey orchestrated by Kelly and his debonair Northwest Prevailing Winds.
Kelly is a master of tempo and dynamics, as the listener can appreciate throughout the wide-ranging session, which spans the rhythmic spectrum from burner to ballad, the geographic landscape from New Orleans to Latin America, with a soupcon of smooth jazz ("Grover," Kelly's tribute to Grover Washington, showcasing Travis Ranney on soprano sax) appended to season the medley. Above all, Kelly's music is fun to hear and to play, a tendency that is reflected in his choice of song titles, some of which are puns ("Play Tonic Budz," a.k.a. "Just Friends"), others simply clever plays on words, whether in English ("Beagles," "Ewe Doo on Bubbas Shoux," "Top Fuel Pete vs. the Trav-ski") or Spanish ("Estos Frijoles Causa Me Falta Pasar a Los Vientos").
Once the music begins, however, Prevailing Winds is all business, unblinkingly staring down Kelly's elaborate charts and dispatching them with relative ease. Besides arranging, Kelly wrote every tune save Phil Braham's venerable "Limehouse Blues," played at an easygoing tempo that accentuates the "blues." "Beagles" is a buoyant mid-tempo charmer, "Ewe Doo" a New Orleans-inspired quasi-march. Kelly salutes his rain-swept Pacific Northwest home with the shapely bossa "Rainshadow," his self-reliant compositional base with the intrepid "Note-o-Riot-ee." Rounding out the pleasurable session is "B.D. Bunz," a bluesy promenade with a palpable "film noir" temperament (or as Nordal puts it, "a leisurely Saturday saunter amongst the congested streets, lush parks, brick walls and fire escapes of Manhattan").
The irrepressible tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb is featured on "Bunz," as he is on several other numbers. While the soloists aren't always named, in the liners or elsewhere, Christlieb's sound and style are unmistakable. He is heard again on "Play Tonic," "Limehouse Blues" (wherein he cleverly cites "Pennies from Heaven"), "Beagles," "Ewe Doo" and "Bunz," and engages in earnest hand-to-hand combat with fellow tenors Ranney, Pete Brewer and Randy Lee on the album's spirited finale, "Top Fuel Pete." Trumpeter Jay Thomas is front and center with Christlieb and trombonist Dan Marcus on "Ewe Doo," and that's most likely Thomas again on "Beagles." Marcus and trumpeter Vern Sielert complement Christlieb on "Play Tonic," while Marcus and baritone Bill Ramsay are the probable suspects (with alto Jerry Dodgion) on "Limehouse Blues." Guitarist Grant Geissman and one of the band's pianistsJohn Hansen or Pat Coilshare exemplary blowing space on "Rainshadow."
By any measure, Beagles is another impressive outing by Kelly and Prevailing Winds, one that must be counted among the early front-runners in any 2010 Album of the Year sweepstakes.
Eric Essix and the Night Flight Big Band
Magic City Music
Any big band recording that opens with Bobbie Gentry's pop hit "Ode to Billy Joe" and includes Tony Joe White's "Rainy Night in Georgia" suggests reasonable cause for concern, which is borne out to some degree on Superblue by guitarist Eric Essix's penchant for rock beats to reanimate his role models, from B.B. King, Eric Clapton and T-Bone Walker to Charlie Christian, Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery. The Alabama-based Night Flight Big Band is solid, giving Essix an impressive stage on which to perform. Too often, however, its best efforts are undermined by charts that lumber along without much energy or charm.