Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchesta / Vaughn Wiester / Chie Imaizumi
BuselliWallarab Jazz Orchestra
After veering slightly off-course recently with several albums devoted in part to backing singers, the outstanding Indianapolis-based Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra is back in a more pleasing instrumental groove on Mezzanine, profiling the compositions and arrangements of co-leader / trombonist Brent Wallarab. The first four selections, linked together as Suite Storytelling, were inspired by the writings of four masters of the genre: J.D. Salinger, Mark Twain, Anton Chekhov and Charles Dickens. The suite, Wallarab writes, "is not programmatic...each movement is a tribute to influential short stories / story-tellers from my youth."
"The Glass Tree" (dedicated to Salinger) showcases Rob Dixon's tenor sax, "Taballae Ex Terra" (Twain) Frank Glover's clarinet, "Mezzanine" (Chekhov) Wallarab's trombone, and "Sketch for Boz" (Dickens, using an early pen name) Glover's tenor sax and Luke Gillespie's piano. The first three movements are even-tempered and mellowperhaps too much so for some tastesbut Wallarab makes excellent use of color and dynamics to underline their inherent charm. "Boz" is more animated, with Glover and Gillespie's probing choruses presaging its decisive shout chorus.
A second suite, the three-part Suite Influence, is separated from the first by Cole Porter's seldom-heard ballad "Goodbye Little Dream, Goodbye," on which co-leader Mark Buselli's burnished flugelhorn amplifies its handsome melody. The suite is comprised of Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade," Edgar Sampson's "Stompin' at the Savoy" and Ray Noble's "Cherokee," all seductively arranged by Wallarab. Gillespie and Glover (again on clarinet) are out front on "Serenade," Buselli (muted trumpet) on "Savoy," Buselli (trumpet and flugel), Dixon and Gillespie on "Cherokee." The album closes with Wallrab's glossy arrangement of Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower," featuring his trombone with Glover and Dixon on soprano sax.
If there's a complaint to be made, it is that most of Wallarab's charts, tasteful as they are, fail to generate much heat to reinforce their elegance, with only "Sketch for Boz" and "Cherokee" moving at more than a moderate pace. Apart from that, there is nothing disparaging to say, as this Mezzanine affords an auspicious view of a superior contemporary jazz orchestra at the top of its game.
Vaughn Wiester's Famous Jazz Orchestra
There are a number of things always to be counted on when appraising a new album by trombonist Vaughn Wiester's splendid Columbus, Ohio-based Famous Jazz Orchestra (which isn't really "famous" in the truest sense of the word but should be): the music will be live (and lively), the Jazz Tempo impeccable, the choice of material consistently engaging, the orchestra itself earnest and swinging from the opening downbeat.
Wiester knows full well that every note won't be perfect, but he's willing to accept that in return for the aura of spontaneity and excitement that only a live recording can produce. What better way to open any concert than with one of the great Bill Holman's classic themes, in this case "Bright Eyes." Holman returns later with its "companion" piece, "Evil Eyes," complementing superb charts by Slide Hampton, Ernie Wilkins, Quincy Jones, Phil Wilson,Alan Broadbent, Thad Jones and Billy Byers. Bill Dobbins arranged Bill Evans' "Turn Out the Stars" as a vehicle for tenor saxophonist Bryan Olsheski, while Wiester adapted Tutti Camarata's arrangement of the hymn "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" for the Doc Everhart Band (this version features trombonist Matt Ellis).
Jim Powell's nimble flugelhorn is showcased on Thad Jones' "Low Down" and "It Only Happens Every Time," guest artist Art Silva's alto on Quincy Jones' "The Midnight Sun Will Never Set," one of four charts written for the Count Basie book (the others are Wilkins' "Basie," Byers' "Souse of the Border" and Bill Davis' "Indian Summer"). Broadbent wrote "Sugarloaf Mountain" for the Woody Herman Herd, Hampton "Frame for the Blues" (a tad overlong at 12:14) for the Maynard Ferguson orchestra. Completing the delightful program are Hampton's arrangement of Henry Mancini / Johnny Mercer's "Days of Wine and Roses" and Wilson's sensuous "Camel Driver."