One glance at Jim Waller's silver mane is enough to make it clear he is no young lion. In fact, Waller, a veteran composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist who calls San Antonio, Texas, home, is nearing his eighth decade. Even though Waller's career has been long and successful, there was one item on his Bucket List that hadn't been crossed offuntil now. Waller wanted to lead and record a big band of his own. And so he has. It is a splendid band too, securely anchored by guest drummer Will Kennedy (formerly of the Yellowjackets) and enhanced by Waller's sunny arrangements, animated solos and seven of his original compositions.
As if to show that nothing is beyond the pale, Waller has even updated George Gershwin's classic "Rhapsody in Blue," which helped usher in the era of modern jazz when introduced by Paul Whiteman's orchestra in 1924 (with the composer at the piano), using a six-member string section to deepen the mood. Waller solos on tenor sax on nine numbers, organ on the well-named "Funksuite 109," soprano sax on "This Is It." On tenor, his style leans more toward Georgie Auld or Charlie Ventura than, say, Jimmy Heath or George Coleman. There are five vocals by Jacqueline Sotelo who skims through them without ruffling any feathers or turning any heads. Of the five, two were associated with Peggy Lee ("I Love Being Here with You," "Why Don't You Do Right") and one with Ray Charles ("Georgia on My Mind").
While the charts for Sotelo are admirable, it is on the nine instrumentals that the band really shines, starting with Waller's rhythmically impressive "Samba for Suzell" (written for his late wife), and continuing with the emphatic "New Blue Funk" (Bill King, flute) and shuffling "Blues for Los Blues," a jazz-rock group with whom Waller played in the late '60s and early '70s (Jason Galbraith, tenor; Joey Colarusso, baritone). Waller also wrote (and arranged) the well-grooved "Waltz for Laura," on which he solos trimly with trumpeter Lee "Sparky" Thomason. Bill Doggett's soul-drenched "Honky Tonk" and Billie Holiday's sermonesque "God Bless the Child" (vocal by Sotelo) precede the nimble finale, "This Is It" (radiant solos by trumpeter Curtis Calderon and Waller on soprano).
First-class band, superb arrangements. High marks for both, tempered to a degree by the garden-variety vocals but nonetheless recommended for its many pleasurable moments.
Samba for Suzell; I Love Being Here with You; New Blue Funk; Blues for Los Blues; Georgia
on My Mind; Waltz for Laura; Rhapsody in Blue; Why Don’t You Do Right; Funk Suite 109;
A Ballad for Bob; Goody Goody; Honky Tonk; God Bless the Child; This Is It.
Andy Langham: piano (10); Georgie Padilla: congas, percussion (1, 13); Joe Caploe:
timpani (7); Will Kennedy: drums; Jacqueline Sotelo: vocals. String section (Serenade in
Blue)—Anastasia Parker: concertmaster; Dr. Stephanie Westney: violin; Eric Siu: violin;
Yang Guo: viola; David Wang: viola; Ken Freudigman: cello.
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