Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchesta / Vaughn Wiester / Chie Imaizumi
Besides the soloists already named, there are pleasing turns by trumpeter Bob Larson, alto Jay Miglia, tenor Joe Graziosi, baritone Bob LeBeau, guest alto flutist Kris Keith ("Camel Driver"), pianist Jim Luellen, guitarist William Flynn and bassist Larry Cook. Wiester solos once, on "Sugarloaf Mountain." Meanwile, drummer Steve Schaar ably supervises the orchestra's broad-shouldered rhythm section. This is the orchestra's sixth recording in less than a dozen years, each one of which can be warmly recommended. Three cheers and a thankful salute to Vaughn Wiester for helping keep big-band jazz alive and swinging in Columbus. If you wish to see and hear the band in person, it has a regular Monday night gig at the Columbus Music Hall.
A Time of New Beginnings
Three years after the release of her widely praised debut album, Unfailing Kindness, Colorado-based composer / arranger Chie Imaizumi has re-entered the studio with an engaging assortment of fresh thematic material to record a second, the suitably christened A Time of New Beginnings. For those who've wondered from whence the next Toshiko Akiyoshi might arise, Imaizumi explicitly provides a persuasive starting point.
As before, Imaizumi has assembled a seasoned group of blue-chip musicians from the East and West coasts and points in between to interpret her melodious and engaging charts. One can hardly overstate the conspicuous talents of trumpeters Randy Brecker, Greg Gisbert and Terell Stafford, saxophonists Steve Wilson, Scott Robinson and Gary Smulyan, trombonist Steve Davis, guitarist Mike Abbott, pianist Tamir Hendelman, bassist John Clayton and drummers Jeff Hamilton (seven tracks) or Paul Romaine (three). Although this isn't strictly speaking a full-fledged big band, the temper is robust and nary a chair is wasted.
As for Imaizumi, she wastes no time raising her singular voice, setting in motion the far-ranging voyage by expressing "My Heartfelt Gratitude" to her friends and colleagues, for her career and for life itself. "When I was writing this piece," she says, "I was so grateful that it put me in tears." The listener should be similarly thankful that the charming song was written. Brecker is the soloist on the graphic "Information Overload," while "Fear of the Unknown," which commingles sadness and beauty, features Clayton's expressive Arco bass. Hamilton commissioned the well-drawn title selection, on which Clayton's Arco is once again front and center.
A personal favorite is the fast-moving "Run for Your Life," which encompasses volcanic statements by Gisbert and Stafford. "Today," which follows, was written for a Japanese friend, Aya, while "Sharing the Freedom" was commissioned by the US Air Force Falconaires for a performance at the 2008 Monterey Jazz Festival. The solos on "Freedom" are by Clayton and alto saxophonist Wilson who moves to flute to help introduce the shapely "Many Happy Days Ahead" before stepping aside for handsome solos by Davis (muted) and Smulyan. The playful finale, "Fun & Stupid Song," brings Robinson to the fore on sopranino and tenor sax, and he shows clearly why he is regarded as one of the most accomplished and versatile woodwind players on today's scene. As a bonus, a sparkling drum exchange between Hamilton and Romaine precedes a series of conclusive shout choruses that place an assertive exclamation point on the proceedings.
Among her contemporaries, the natural comparison is to Maria Schneider, but to be honest, Imaizumi's charts are as a rule more congenial than Schneider's and clearly swing harder and more often. The most decisive measurement to be made is with Akiyoshi, and it is sufficent to observe that Imaizumi doesn't suffer by comparison. Unfailing Kindness was admirable; A Time of New Beginnings is even better.
Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra
Jimmy Heath: The Endless Search
In June 2001, the celebrated tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath headed westward from his home base in Philadelphia to perform a series of concerts with the then-six-year-old Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, a tour so successful that it led to a commission from the SRJO for a three-part suite, The Endless Search. The suite made its debut in 2006, and has been presented by the SRJO on three other occasions. One of the keynotes of this generally admirable recording, made in 2007, is the towering presence of Heath himself on the suite and on the well-knit "Sleeves," which he also wrote.