Claus Ogerman Orchestra: Watusi Trumpets

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Now that we’re in the full swing of the summer season, it seemed logical to go for an album this month with a sunny disposition. So let me make the disclaimer that the music on this LP will not change your life and I make no claims for innovation or anything earth shattering. But with your hi-fi setup close to the pool or deck, a libation of your choice in hand, and possibly a dance partner, you might find Watusi Trumpets to be a sunny finger popping disc.

While many are most likely aware of arranger Claus Ogerman through his work on such sublime classics as Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Wave , Bill Evans With Symphony Orchestra , and possibly his own late ‘70s/early ‘80s albums Gate of Dreams and Cityscape , fewer still have probably seen or heard Watusi Trumpets. Cut in 1965 for RCA Victor, Ogerman is heard just a few years shy of hooking up with producer Creed Taylor who would keep him busy over the next decade arranging a variety of projects for Verve and CTI Records.

This set is obviously in line with similar concept albums of the time that lent jazz sensibilities to popular dance moves such as the twist. Pop hits abound here including “Downtown,” “It’s Not Unusual,” “The Joker,” “La Bamba,” and “Land of 1000 Dances.” Ogerman approaches the material with taste even if the actual harmonic and melodic content of some of the tunes is limited. “La Bamba” actually seems far removed from its more popular incarnation, with bright flute work and harmonious trombones carrying the lead. A bit more of a Tin Pan Alley chestnut, “Poinciana” is almost unrecognizable until B3 organ steps in with the familiar melody, complimented by a dazzling trumpet fanfare on the bridge.

Aside from the pop ditties, Ogerman pens a few of his own originals, along with Herbie Mann’s “Right Now,” Ray Barretto’s “El Watusi,” and Joe Zawinul’s “One Step Above.” The last of these sets the routine for most of the tracks, with B3 organ taking the lead and contrasting bursts from the trumpet and trombone sections. Aside from a flute solo here or there the emphasis is mostly on “the groove” for these tracks that rarely exceed two and a half minutes in length. Standing apart from even his other commercially-oriented RCA sets, Ogerman’s Watusi Trumpets is certainly an oddity and a one-off affair that offers little in the way of jazz improvisation but much in the way of ‘60s high fidelity, not to mention its appeal to those who dig “Space Age Pop” or “Bachelor Pad” music.

Track Listing: 1. It's Not Unusual, Stingray Watusi, 3. Trumpets el Watusi, 4. Downtown Right Now, 5. Harlem Watusi, 6. One Step Above, 7. The Joker, 8. Poinciana la Bamba (Bernier/Simon), 9. Land of 1000 Dances


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