Bill Cunliffe Latin Jazz Nonet

Craig Jolley By

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Bill Cunliffe Latin Jazz Nonet
Sherman Oaks, CA
February 16, 2004

As with his other projects Bill Cunliffe's new band runs in an intelligent, fresh direction. An outgrowth of his straight-ahead sextet, the key to this band (besides the extra percussion) is the double trombones with the fuller, darker sound available. At times Cunliffe summons up a "Moorish" flavor ("Sketches of Spain"), but more often he gets a little big band sound. He doesn't overstay in one groove or mood.

Cunliffe treated his repertoire, a mix of standards and originals, as real music—not just points of departure for simple vamps. He sneaked in some humor on "Flying High" ("Speak Low") with quotes from many tunes popping up. A minor key "Heat Wave" (Irving Berlin) recalled the exotic flavor of Oliver Nelson's "Afrique." "Do It Again" (Steely Dan) was a groove with the percussionists front and center. The bolero "Pure Imagination" portrayed Cunliffe's romantic side. "How My Heart Sings" featured Bill Evans' solo (melody line) transcribed for Sheppard with Cunliffe handling the chords. For the flagwaver "Bone Crusher" all the horns stretched out and later traded fours with the percussion section.

Of the trombonists Paulson played more melodically while Velasco came from a rhythmic direction. Bob Sheppard with his a special insight into Cunliffe's music took one wonderful solo after another. He is a major player on all his instruments, not just a saxophonist who doubles on flute. Kye Palmer (subbing for Bobby Shew) exemplified that piercing, aggressive sound favored by Gerald Wilson and other band leaders of this genre. Occasionally switching to flugelhorn Palmer blended with Sheppard's flute for an ethereal feel. The percussionists threw themselves into the music (They did not overplay.), both as part of the ensemble and as group soloists. Cunliffe did not feature himself as extensively as I wanted, but every solo was on target. He has a personal take on the Cubop piano tradition.

Cunliffe will record this band within the next few weeks. Look out!

Bill Cunliffe -piano, composer; Bob Sheppard—reeds; Kye Palmer—trumpet, flugelhorn; Bruce Paulson, Art Velasco—trombones; Rene Camacho—bass; Ramon Banda—drums; Jose DeLeon, Papo Rodriguez —percussion.


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