Sometimes, just when it seems things couldn't possibly get any better, they do. That is certainly the case with A Beautiful Friendship,
the spectacular new recording by arranger Gary Urwin
's superlative southern California-based Jazz Orchestra. Having released three earlier albums showcasing the exceptional artistry of tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb
and / or trombonist Bill Watrous
, Urwin has upped the ante and pulled out all the stops on this one, not only re-enlisting Christlieb and Watrous for a consistently pleasing encore performance but enlivening the menu with yet another appetizing component, namely Carl Saunders
, one of the most versatile and creative jazz trumpeters on the planet.
Saunders employs his awesome talents throughout, soloing brightly on five numbers, "dueling" with Wayne Bergeron
on Charlie Parker
/ Dizzy Gillespie
's "Shaw 'Nuff" (taken at an agreeable medium tempo) and with acclaimed guest artist Bobby Shew
on Clifford Brown
's classic "Joy Spring," while composing two of the album's more endearing themes, "Autumn Sojourn" and "Dear Mr. Florence," the last dedicated to the late great composer / arranger / pianist Bob Florence
. As a soloist, Saunders had to bring his A game, as Christlieb and Watrous match him stride for stride and note for note, lending special warmth and charm to their feature numbers, "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry" (Watrous) and "Dear Mr. Florence" (Christlieb).
As for Urwin, who describes himself in the liner notes as, among other things, "chief cook and bottle washer," he deftly arranged every selection save the warm-hearted finale, pianist Christian Jacob
's unaccompanied rendition of "We'll Be Together Again." Christlieb, Watrous and Saunders are front and center with Jacob on the flag-waving opener, "A Beautiful Friendship," and with drummer Ralph Razze on Bill Evans
' genial "Waltz for Debby." Christlieb and Jacob share blowing space with Saunders (flugelhorn and high-note trumpet) on Michel Colombier's easygoing "Emmanuel." Christlieb, Jacob and Razze sparkle on the seductive standard "It Could Happen to You," Watrous and Christlieb on Luiz Bonfa
's "The Gentle Rain," Watrous and Saunders on Antonio Carlos Jobim
's sensuous "Look to the Sky."
While heaping praise on the soloists, one should not lose sight of the fact that this is a world-class ensemble with superb craftsmen in every chair. Together they make A Beautiful Friendship
one of the more impressive big-band albums in recent memory. A rating of less than five stars? Out of the question.
A Beautiful Friendship; Waltz for Debby; Emmanuel; Autumn Sojourn; Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry; It Could Happen to You; The Gentle Rain; Shaw ‘Nuff; Look to the Sky; Dear Mr. Florence; Joy Spring; We’ll Be Together Again.
Gary Urwin: leader, arranger; Wayne Bergeron: trumpet; Rick Baptist: trumpet; Dan Fornero: trumpet; Carl Saunders: trumpet; Jeff Bunnell: trumpet: Kim Richmond: alto sax; Rusty Higgins: alto sax; Pete Christlieb: tenor sax; Dan Higgins: tenor sax; John Mitchell: baritone sax; Charlie Loper: trombone; Alex Iles: trombone; Andy Martin: trombone; Rich Bullock: bass trombone; Craig Gosnell: bass trombone; Christian Jacob: piano; Frank Browne: guitar; Trey Henry: bass; Ralph Razze: drums, percussion; Chris Razze: percussion. On selected tracks —Larry Hall: trumpet; Pete De Siena: trumpet; Ron King: trumpet; Alex Budman, Billy Kerr, Rob Hardt, Joel Peskin: saxophone; Alan Kaplan: trombone; Linda Small: trombone; Dave Woodley: trombone. Guest artists – Bobby Shew: trumpet; Bethany Pflueger: flute.