For a band to play Gerry Mulligan’s music well all they need is a sophisticated horn section with an unerring sense of rhythm, a core of intelligent soloists with a wide range of stylistic knowledge, and a fluent rhythm section that can accompany with both vigor and taste. Vic Lewis and the West Coast All-Stars measure up to this demanding description on their new release With Love To Gerry
Baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan was not only a great musician, he was also one of jazz’s outstanding composers, arrangers, and bandleaders. While still in high school he was arranging for professional big bands of the caliber of Eliot Lawrence’s, and by the time he was 20 he was arranging for Gene Krupa. Mulligan went on to accompany Billie Holiday and to record particularly notable albums with Ben Webster and Chet Baker. His big band recordings alone form an impressive body of classic jazz.
Vic Lewis and the West Coast All-Stars play Mulligan compositions arranged by Bill Holmen, Bob Brookmeyer, Manny Alban, and others in a genrally low-key style that emphasizes the melodic gift of Mulligan. This is a carefully thought out recording in its details and in its overall presentation. Instruments are often isolated above the rhythm section in long solos, trading off with different horn combinations, while the deft drumming of Ray Brinker acts as the hub of this excellent band. At times there is a formal, carefully paced air to the music and at other times this band simply cooks.
Solo work by trumpet Bob Summers is especially noteworthy with a bright, clear sound, played with assurance and grace. Trombonists Andy Martin and Bob McChesney are also outstanding soloists, demonstrating the agility and articulation possible with this often neglected solo instrument. The odd instrumentation of a trumpet and two trombones above a piano/bass/drums rhythm section makes for some interesting sound blends and sonorities. In short, it would be difficult to over praise the unison horn lines/passages and the rapport of these horns while the rhythm section is relentlessly creative.
With Love To Gerry is swing music with a 1950’s small band sound. This is immensely appealing music by a sextet with style, taste, and the musicality to know that understatement has its own presence and power. If we get lucky, this will not be the last recording by this outstanding group of musicians.
Personnel: Andy Martin, trombone; Bob McChesney, trombone; Bob Summers, trumpet; Christian Jacob, piano; Trey Henry, bass; Ray Brinker, drums; and Vic Lewis, band director. (www.seabreezejazz.com)