Drummer Art Lillard's Heavenly Big Band continues to spread sunshine and happiness on Certain Relationships, an album recorded in three sessions spanning the half-dozen years between 2005-2011. Of the fifteen selections, nine are vocals by Pete McGuinness, Hilary Gardner, Andrea Wolper, Mary Foster Conklin or Dominique Eade. In Lillard's optimistic eyes, even the blues are gladsome (as Wolper affirms on Track 5, the buoyant "Happy Blues"). And the shuffling "You Bluesed Me," nicely sung by Conklin, is far more sunny than sullen.
McGuinness, best known as a trombonist who leads his own big band in the Big Apple, bares his vocal chops on the upbeat opener, "Evidence / Just You, Just Me," and resurfaces on the Chet Baker favorite, "Let's Get Lost." The silky-voiced Wolper is showcased on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "The Girl from Ipanema" and waits patiently in line behind trombonist Jack Davis before enhancing an unhurried reading of "Just Friends." Wolper and McGuinness intermingle on Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child" (usually a ballad but set here to a saucy Latin beat) while Eade helps wrap things up with a good-natured vocal / scat on the standard "Pennies from Heaven."
Lillard's point of view, if one may hazard a guess, seems to be that big-band jazz can be uplifting and fun to listen to as well as cerebral. With Certain Relationships as a benchmark, he is definitely on the right track. This is a refreshing album from start to finish.
Evidence / Just You, Just Me; Carolina Shout; Heavenly; Happy Blues; Just Friends; You Bluesed Me; Swing Trane; The Girl from Ipanema; God Bless the Child; Eleanor’s Place; Brusheeze; Let’s Get Lost; Softly as in a Morning Sunrise; Boogie Woogie Stomp; Pennies from Heaven.
October 25-26, 2005 —Justin Mullens: trumpet; Rich Nichols: trumpet; Danny Walsh: soprano sax; Dennis Micheltree: soprano, tenor sax; Isao Suzuki: alto sax; Bob Mover: alto sax; Lou Caputo: tenor sax; Jan Leder: flute; Michele Smith: flute; Jack Davis: trombone; Ben Oatmen: bass trombone; Cecilia Coleman: piano; Mark McCarron: guitar; Nick Cudahy: bass; Art Lillard: drums; David Picton: percussion; Todd Isler: percussion; Andrea Wolper: vocals. February 20, 2007 —Sam Hoyt: trumpet; Pam Fleming: trumpet; Walt Szymanski: trumpet, vocals; Danny Walsh: soprano sax; Tom Abbott: alto sax; Paul Carlon: tenor sax; Itai Kriss: flute; Jeff Schiller: flute; Noah Bless: trombone; Jack Jeffers: bass trombone; Jon Davis: piano; Steve Blum: guitar; Maxim Vater: bass; Art Lillard: drums; Portinho: drums; Bobby Sanabria: percussion; Mary Foster Conklin: vocals; Andrea Wolper: vocals. June 29, 2011 —Barry Bryson: trumpet; Mark McGowan: trumpet; Chris Bacas: soprano sax; Gerald Thomas: alto sax; Jim Clouse: tenor sax; Michael Hashim: tenor sax; Jan Leder: flute; Carol Sudhalter: flute; Stafford Hunter: trombone; Jack Jeffers: bass trombone; Ted Kooshian: piano; Nick Russo: guitar; William Ash: guitar; Ralph Hamperian: bass; Art Lillard: drums; Nano Valerio: percussion; Todd Isler: percussion; Andrea Wolper: vocals; Pete McGuinness: vocals; Hilary Gardner: vocals; Dominique Eade: vocals.