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Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchesta / Vaughn Wiester / Chie Imaizumi

Jack Bowers By

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Buselli—Wallarab Jazz Orchestra

Mezzanine

Owl Studios

2010

After veering slightly off-course recently with several albums devoted in part to backing singers, the outstanding Indianapolis-based Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra is back in a more pleasing instrumental groove on Mezzanine, profiling the compositions and arrangements of co-leader / trombonist Brent Wallarab. The first four selections, linked together as Suite Storytelling, were inspired by the writings of four masters of the genre: J.D. Salinger, Mark Twain, Anton Chekhov and Charles Dickens. The suite, Wallarab writes, "is not programmatic...each movement is a tribute to influential short stories / story-tellers from my youth."

"The Glass Tree" (dedicated to Salinger) showcases Rob Dixon's tenor sax, "Taballae Ex Terra" (Twain) Frank Glover's clarinet, "Mezzanine" (Chekhov) Wallarab's trombone, and "Sketch for Boz" (Dickens, using an early pen name) Glover's tenor sax and Luke Gillespie's piano. The first three movements are even-tempered and mellow—perhaps too much so for some tastes—but Wallarab makes excellent use of color and dynamics to underline their inherent charm. "Boz" is more animated, with Glover and Gillespie's probing choruses presaging its decisive shout chorus.

A second suite, the three-part Suite Influence, is separated from the first by Cole Porter's seldom-heard ballad "Goodbye Little Dream, Goodbye," on which co-leader Mark Buselli's burnished flugelhorn amplifies its handsome melody. The suite is comprised of Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade," Edgar Sampson's "Stompin' at the Savoy" and Ray Noble's "Cherokee," all seductively arranged by Wallarab. Gillespie and Glover (again on clarinet) are out front on "Serenade," Buselli (muted trumpet) on "Savoy," Buselli (trumpet and flugel), Dixon and Gillespie on "Cherokee." The album closes with Wallrab's glossy arrangement of Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower," featuring his trombone with Glover and Dixon on soprano sax.

If there's a complaint to be made, it is that most of Wallarab's charts, tasteful as they are, fail to generate much heat to reinforce their elegance, with only "Sketch for Boz" and "Cherokee" moving at more than a moderate pace. Apart from that, there is nothing disparaging to say, as this Mezzanine affords an auspicious view of a superior contemporary jazz orchestra at the top of its game.

Vaughn Wiester's Famous Jazz Orchestra

Jazz Tempo

CoJazz

2010

There are a number of things always to be counted on when appraising a new album by trombonist Vaughn Wiester's splendid Columbus, Ohio-based Famous Jazz Orchestra (which isn't really "famous" in the truest sense of the word but should be): the music will be live (and lively), the Jazz Tempo impeccable, the choice of material consistently engaging, the orchestra itself earnest and swinging from the opening downbeat.

Wiester knows full well that every note won't be perfect, but he's willing to accept that in return for the aura of spontaneity and excitement that only a live recording can produce. What better way to open any concert than with one of the great Bill Holman's classic themes, in this case "Bright Eyes." Holman returns later with its "companion" piece, "Evil Eyes," complementing superb charts by Slide Hampton, Ernie Wilkins, Quincy Jones, Phil Wilson,Alan Broadbent, Thad Jones and Billy Byers. Bill Dobbins arranged Bill Evans' "Turn Out the Stars" as a vehicle for tenor saxophonist Bryan Olsheski, while Wiester adapted Tutti Camarata's arrangement of the hymn "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" for the Doc Everhart Band (this version features trombonist Matthew Ellison).

Jimmie Powell's nimble flugelhorn is showcased on Thad Jones' "Low Down" and "It Only Happens Every Time," guest artist Art Silva's alto on Quincy Jones' "The Midnight Sun Will Never Set," one of four charts written for the Count Basie book (the others are Wilkins' "Basie," Byers' "Souse of the Border" and Bill Davis' "Indian Summer"). Broadbent wrote "Sugarloaf Mountain" for the Woody Herman Herd, Hampton "Frame for the Blues" (a tad overlong at 12:14) for the Maynard Ferguson orchestra. Completing the delightful program are Hampton's arrangement of Henry Mancini / Johnny Mercer's "Days of Wine and Roses" and Wilson's sensuous "Camel Driver."

Besides the soloists already named, there are pleasing turns by trumpeter Bob Larson, alto Jay Miglia, tenor Joe Graziosi, baritone Bob LeBeau, guest alto flutist Kris Keith ("Camel Driver"), pianist Jim Luellen, guitarist William Flynn and bassist Larry Cook. Wiester solos once, on "Sugarloaf Mountain." Meanwile, drummer Steve Schaar ably supervises the orchestra's broad-shouldered rhythm section. This is the orchestra's sixth recording in less than a dozen years, each one of which can be warmly recommended. Three cheers and a thankful salute to Vaughn Wiester for helping keep big-band jazz alive and swinging in Columbus. If you wish to see and hear the band in person, it has a regular Monday night gig at the Columbus Music Hall.

Chie Amaizumi

A Time of New Beginnings

Capri

2010

Three years after the release of her widely praised debut album, Unfailing Kindness, Colorado-based composer / arranger Chie Imaizumi has re-entered the studio with an engaging assortment of fresh thematic material to record a second, the suitably christened A Time of New Beginnings. For those who've wondered from whence the next Toshiko Akiyoshi might arise, Imaizumi explicitly provides a persuasive starting point.

As before, Imaizumi has assembled a seasoned group of blue-chip musicians from the East and West coasts and points in between to interpret her melodious and engaging charts. One can hardly overstate the conspicuous talents of trumpeters Randy Brecker, Greg Gisbert and Terell Stafford, saxophonists Steve Wilson, Scott Robinson and Gary Smulyan, trombonist Steve Davis, guitarist Mike Abbott, pianist Tamir Hendelman, bassist John Clayton and drummers Jeff Hamilton (seven tracks) or Paul Romaine (three). Although this isn't strictly speaking a full-fledged big band, the temper is robust and nary a chair is wasted.

As for Imaizumi, she wastes no time raising her singular voice, setting in motion the far-ranging voyage by expressing "My Heartfelt Gratitude" to her friends and colleagues, for her career and for life itself. "When I was writing this piece," she says, "I was so grateful that it put me in tears." The listener should be similarly thankful that the charming song was written. Brecker is the soloist on the graphic "Information Overload," while "Fear of the Unknown," which commingles sadness and beauty, features Clayton's expressive Arco bass. Hamilton commissioned the well-drawn title selection, on which Clayton's Arco is once again front and center.

A personal favorite is the fast-moving "Run for Your Life," which encompasses volcanic statements by Gisbert and Stafford. "Today," which follows, was written for a Japanese friend, Aya, while "Sharing the Freedom" was commissioned by the US Air Force Falconaires for a performance at the 2008 Monterey Jazz Festival. The solos on "Freedom" are by Clayton and alto saxophonist Wilson who moves to flute to help introduce the shapely "Many Happy Days Ahead" before stepping aside for handsome solos by Davis (muted) and Smulyan. The playful finale, "Fun & Stupid Song," brings Robinson to the fore on sopranino and tenor sax, and he shows clearly why he is regarded as one of the most accomplished and versatile woodwind players on today's scene. As a bonus, a sparkling drum exchange between Hamilton and Romaine precedes a series of conclusive shout choruses that place an assertive exclamation point on the proceedings.

Among her contemporaries, the natural comparison is to Maria Schneider, but to be honest, Imaizumi's charts are as a rule more congenial than Schneider's and clearly swing harder and more often. The most decisive measurement to be made is with Akiyoshi, and it is sufficent to observe that Imaizumi doesn't suffer by comparison. Unfailing Kindness was admirable; A Time of New Beginnings is even better.

Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra

Jimmy Heath: The Endless Search

Origin

2010

In June 2001, the celebrated tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath headed westward from his home base in Philadelphia to perform a series of concerts with the then-six-year-old Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, a tour so successful that it led to a commission from the SRJO for a three-part suite, The Endless Search. The suite made its debut in 2006, and has been presented by the SRJO on three other occasions. One of the keynotes of this generally admirable recording, made in 2007, is the towering presence of Heath himself on the suite and on the well-knit "Sleeves," which he also wrote.

Parts 1 and 2 of the suite are divided by a brief but effective "interlude" underscored by trombone and trumpet leads Scott Brown and Anthony Omdahl, respectively. The interlude moves directly into the lyrical second movement, ushered in by Heath's eloquent soprano saxophone. Heath solos again on tenor, as he does on the first and third movements, his control and phrasing as smooth and sharp as ever. Other soloists on Part 1 ("The Endless Search") are co-leader / alto Michael Brockman and trumpeter Jay Thomas, on Parts 2 and 3 ("Inside Your Heart" / "Where It Started") pianist Randy Halberstadt, tenor Hadley Caliman (who sounds a lot like Heath), trombonist David Marriott, Jr., trumpeter Thomas Marriott, bassist Phil Sparks and drummer (and co-leader) Clarence Acox. Baritone Bill Ramsay, tenor Travis Ranney, alto Mark Taylor and trombonist Dan Marcus are out front with Heath on "Sleeves."

It's a shame that Heath couldn't have hung around long enough to help brighten the last three tracks, recorded during concert performances from 2007-2010—Brockman's "Passage Noir," Charles Mingus's "Haitian Fight Song" and Duke Ellington's "Creole Love Call," each of which has its moments yet falls rather short of Heath's inspiring endowments. After an unpromising beginning, "Noir" settles into a pleasant groove that underscores crisp solos by Brockman, Acox and pianist Bill Anschell. Mingus is an acquired taste, one that hasn't yet stimulated every palate. The SRJO does its best with the building blocks at hand, and there are cogent statements by Brockman, Thomas and Acox. Ellington's "Love Call" dates from 1927, before his band began its residency at New York's Cotton Club (well, this is a repertory orchestra). For what it is, it's fine, and the SRJO gives the bygone era its due. The soloists are Brockman, Halberstadt and Thomas Marriott.

While the SRJO plays well throughout, and the soloists are never less than assertive, the indelible components of the album are Heath's burnished compositions and engaging solos. For that alone, it is warmly recommended.

The Oster / Welker Jazz Alliance

Detour Ahead

Jazzed Media

2010

The Oster / Welker Jazz Alliance consists of vocalist Jeff Oster, trumpeter Peter Welker and groups of various sizes, each one doing its level best to enrich Oster's charming, plain-spoken vocals on a series of jazz and popular standards closing with the pensive title selection, tastefully performed by Oster and pianist Dave Mathews.

Oster, who once sang lead for a vocal quartet before taking a twenty-year leave of absence to raise a son, has resumed a rewarding career later in life, even though the chances of his scaling the heights achieved by some of his seminal influences—Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, Mark Murphy, Bobby McFerrin, Al Jarreau, Jon Hendricks—are decidedly slim, to say the least. On the other hand, he's a talented songbird with a clear tenor voice, sings on key, knows how to swing when he has to, can scat too, and measures up quite well against his contemporaries (their ranks being rather depleted at the moment).

Welker, besides playing trumpet on seven of the album's dozen tracks (and soloing on flugel on Luis Bonfa's gossamer "Gentle Rain"), wrote the arrangements, and has done a splendid job of it, adeptly modulating the tempos and painting bright and colorful backdrops while leaving ample blowing room for the standout sidemen who include Mathews, trombonists Bill Watrous and Scott Whitfield, alto saxophonist Andrew Speight, tenor Roberts Brothers, baritone Scott Petersen, guitarist Randy Vincent, pianist Mark Levine, bassist Chris Amberger and drummer Kevin Dillon. Oster is backed by Mathews, Amberger and Dillon on "Never Let Me Go," by Roth, Levine, Amberger and Dillon on Cole Porter's "All Through the Night." Strings and cello are added on "Gentle Rain" and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "If You Never Come to Me," two of the album's three jazz-oriented songs (the other is Duke Pearson's "Jeannine").

The choice of material is exemplary, from the songs already named to "There Is No Greater Love," "Invitation," "Weaver of Dreams," "All the Things You Are," "A Beautiful Friendship" and "I'll Remember April," each one sung with warmth and assurance by Oster. One has come to anticipate excellence from Jazzed Media Records, and Detour Ahead does nothing to impair its well-earned reputation.

Tracks and Personnel

Mezzanine

Tracks: Suite Storytelling (The Glass Tree / Taballae Ex Terra / Mezzanine / Sketch for Boz); Goodbye Little Dream, Goodbye; Suite Influence (Moonlight Serenade / Stompin' at the Savoy / Cherokee); Little Sunflower.

Personnel: Mark Buselli co-leader, trumpet, flugelhorn; Brent Wallarab: co-leader, conductor, trombone, composer, arranger; Joey Tartell, Jeff Conrad, Mike Hackett: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ned Boyd, Rob Dixon, Frank Glover, Tom Meyer, Mike Stricklin: reeds; Loy Hetrick, Jason Miller: trombone; Richard Dole: bass trombone; Celeste Holler-Seraphinoff: horn; Luke Gillespie: piano; Jack Helsey: bass; Bryson Kern: drums.

Jazz Tempo

Tracks: Bright Eyes; Sugarloaf Mountain; The Days of Wine and Roses; Indian Summer; Camel Driver; The Midnight Sun Will Never Set; Low Down; Just a Closer Walk with Thee; Evil Eyes; Basie; Turn Out the Stars; Souse of the Border; Frame for the Blues; It Only Happens Every Time.

Personnel: Vaughn Wiester: leader, trombone; Erik Gimbel, Larry Everhart, Jim Powell, Bob Larson, Phil Winnard: trumpet; John Vermeulen, Jay Miglia, Bryan Olsheski, Joe Graziosi, Bob LeBeau: reeds; Ryan Hamilton, Matt Ellis, John Hall, Bill England: trombone; Sean Maloney: tuba; Scott Strohm, John Busic: horn; Jim Luellen: piano; William Flynn: guitar; Larry Cook: bass; Steve Schaar: drums.Guest artists: Kris Keith: alto flute (5); Art Silva: alto sax (6).

A Time of New Beginnings

Tracks: My Heartfelt Gratitude; Information Overload; Fear of the Unknown; A Time of New Beginnings; Run for Your Life; Today; Sharing the Freedom; Many Happy Days Ahead; Fun & Stupid Song.

Personnel: Chie Imaizumi: leader, composer, arranger; Greg Gisbert, Terell Stafford: trumpet, flugelhorn; Randy Brecker: trumpet (2); Steve Wilson: alto, soprano sax, flute; Scott Robinson: tenor, soprano, sopranino sax, clarinet, flute; Gary Smulyan: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Steve Davis: trombone; Mike Abbott: guitar; Tamir Hendelman: piano; John Clayton: bass; Jeff Hamilton: drums (1, 3-6, 8, 9); Paul Romaine: drums (2, 7, 9).

Jimmy Heath: The Endless Search

Tracks: The Endless Search (Part 1: The Endless Search; Interlude; Part 2: Inside Your Heart; Part 3: Where It Started); Sleeves; Passage Noir; Haitian Fight Song; Creole Love Call.

Personnel: Clarence Acox, Michael Brockman: co-leaders; Cesar Amaral, Andy Omdahl, Dennis Haldane, Jay Thomas, Thomas Marriott: trumpet; Michael Brockman: alto, soprano sax, clarinet; Scott Macpherson: alto sax (6); Mark Taylor: alto, tenor sax; Hadley Caliman: tenor sax; Travis Ranney: tenor sax, clarinet; Bill Ramsay: baritone sax; Jon Hansen: tuba (5); Scott Brown, David Marriott Jr., Dan Marcus, Bill Anthony: trombone; David Bentley: bass trombone; Randy Halbertstadt, Bill Anschell: piano (5); Phil Sparks: bass; Clarence Acox: drums.

Detour Ahead

Tracks: There Is No Greater Love; Invitation; If You Never Come to Me; A Weaver of Dreams; Never Let Me Go; Jeannine; All Through the Night; All the Things You Are; Gentle Rain; A Beautiful Friendship; I'll Remember April; Detour Ahead.

Personnel: Jeff Oster: co-leader, vocals; Peter Welker: co-leader, trumpet, flugelhorn, arranger; Doug Morton: trumpet; Andrew Speight: alto sax, alto flute; Bob Roth: tenor sax; Scott Petersen, Doug Rowan: baritone sax; Bill Watrous, Scott Whitfield: trombone; Randy Vincent: guitar; Jeremy Cohen: strings; Doug Harmon: cello; Dave Mathews, Mark Levine: piano; Chris Amberger: bass; Kevin Dillon: drums; Celso Alberti: drums, percussion.

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