While I'm never pleased when someone calls a septet an orchestra, I must concede that alto saxophonist Richie Cole's new album, Back on Top
, quickly captured my heart, enabling me to lay that grievance aside and focus on the music, which is consistently upbeat and enjoyable. And thanks to Cole's clever charts, the ensemble does seem larger than its seven-piece makeup. He says he has written more than five thousand compositions for the band, and the biggest challenge he faced was deciding which ones not to record. I don't know what he left out, but the ten choices he made are outstanding.
Unlike Cole's recent album Trenton Style, which was far too commercial for my ears, On Top is undiluted jazz, much of it bop or swing-based, performed with gusto by his "orchestra. Cole's writing makes unraveling his charts seem like fun, which is reflected in everything from the crisp ensemble work to buoyant solos by Cole, tenor saxophonist Billy Ross, trombonist Rick Stepton, trumpeter Nathan Eklund and guitarist Andrei Riabov. Cole also has blue-chip timekeepers in bassist Rick Crane and drummer Wayne Dunton.
The title selection, based on Ray Noble's "Cherokee and showcasing Cole's irrepressible alto, is one of many highlights. The ensemble really digs in on that dynamic chart, as it does on all the others, from "Remembering Oliver Nelson to "Portrait of Jenny. Richie sums up his musical philosophy in the evocative "I Love Bebop, a swinging tribute to Bird, Diz and all those who came after them. Eklund, a new name to me, takes a vigorous solo, followed by Cole's incisive statement and further stylish writing for the ensemble. While Cole is credited with composing/arranging everything, the haunting "Portrait (from the film of that name, but spelled "Jennie") was actually written by Dimitri Tiomkin and opens with the leader's unaccompanied alto reprising passages from David Raksin's "Love Is for the Very Young (from the film The Bad and the Beautiful) and Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.
Back on Top is the first release for Jazz Excursion Records, presided over by Denver radio host John Sutton, a long-time friend of Cole's. It's an auspicious debut, one in which Cole and the Alto Madness Orchestra are at the top of their game, producing good-natured straight-ahead jazz that is well worth savoring, even though it clocks in at slightly less than fifty minutes (leaving ample room for a few more of those five thousand discarded compositions).
Track Listing: Remembering Oliver Nelson; Jazz Excursion; A Walk in the Park; Uncle Freddy; Home Town; Don
Personnel: Richie Cole: composer, arranger, conductor, alto saxophone; Billy Ross: tenor saxophone;
Nathan Eklund: trumpet; Rick Stepton: trombone; Andrei Riabov: guitar; Rick Crane: bass;
Wayne Dunton: drums.
Year Released: 2005
| Record Label: Jazz Excursion Records
| Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream