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If I had to choose between trombonist Scott Whitfield's Jazz Orchestra East and Jazz Orchestra Westwell, I'd probably go off the deep end before I could make up my mind, or what was left of it. I loved the SWJO East's Live at Birdland (Summit, 2004), and now comes the SWJO West to blow me away with the first 28 minutes of The Minute Game.
Why the first 28? Well, that's a matter of personal taste, and isn't meant to imply that anything here is less than agreeable, simply that I found the first four numbers more persuasive than the last half-dozen. Among those, however, Whitfield's gentle "Lullaby for Grace, his newborn girl, is indeed quite charming, and I envy Scott's pleasure a few years hence when young Grace looks at him with love in her eyes and says, "Daddy, you really wrote that for me?
But comparatively speaking, the first four tunesHank Mobley's "This I Dig of You, Lee Morgan's "Ceora, Whitfield's "Splat! and "Minute Game are so captivating they'd make almost anything else sound somewhat anemic, even though the album ends on an explicit high note with Whitfield's jittery "Hiccups, another composition inspired by his newborn daughter and her "drink[ing] the bottle too fast, causing her to get the hiccups. Besides "Lullaby and "Hiccups, the second half of the brightly recorded studio session encompasses vocals by Whitfield on "City Butterfly and "Moonlight in Vermont, plus his trombone feature, the leisurely "Berceuse from Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird, and another of his originals, "To Be There, a nimble bossa that builds in intensity behind purposeful solos by Whitfield, flugel Larry Williams, pianist Tom Ranier and bassist Jennifer Leitham.
There's almost no better way to open a big band date than with Mobley's irrepressible "Dig, a tour de force for the ensemble and tenor saxophonists Roger Neumann, Rusty Higgins and Ray Herrmann, who launch unerring solo shots before swapping eights, fours and twos. The trombonesWhitfield, Gary Tole and bass Bryant Byersseize the reins on "Splat!, whose stop-and-go preamble morphs into a forceful straight-ahead groove underscored by Leitham's walking bass, which serves as an unerring compass on every number. The enchanting "Ceora, played as a jazz waltz, introduces yet another impressive soloist, flugel Anne King, who is heard again (muted trumpet) on the cheerful "Minute Game. Whitfield and Leitham complement King on the former, while Whitfield, Higgins (alto) and drummer Kendall Kay solo on the latter.
I've not said much about Whitfield's vocals, as the less said the better, even though he's a trained singer who helped launch the Manhattan Vocal Project. He'd probably sound fine with a trio, but when there's a big band in the neighborhood, I'd much prefer to hear the band. Listen and decide for yourself. Neumann frames an admirable baritone solo on "Butterfly, and Tole provides another on "Vermont. In sum, another splendid outing by Whitfield, who is comfortably at home and in control whether leading the SWJO East or West.
Track Listing: This I Dig of You; Splat!; Ceora; The Minute Game; Berceuse from The Firebird; City Butterfly; Lullaby for Grace; To Be There; Moonlight in Vermont; Hiccups (59:18).
Personnel: Scott Whitfield, leader, arranger, trombone, vocal; Rusty Higgins, alto, tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Ray Herrmann, tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Roger Neumann, tenor, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Roger Ingram, Larry Williams, Anne King, trumpet, flugelhorn; Gary Tole, trombone; Bryant Byers (1-4, 8, 10), Rich Bullock (5-7, 9), bass trombone; Tom Ranier, piano, clarinet; Jennifer Leitham, bass; Kendall Kay, drums.