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Rich Willey: Down & Dirty

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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Back in 2001, trumpeter/composer/educator Rich Willey released a critically acclaimed album titled Gone with the Piggies (CAP Records). As a result, a savvy audience has followed him cult-like ever since. With Down and Dirty, the former Maynard Ferguson standout delivers a bacchanalia presentation both as player and composer, surrounded by a unit of Los Angeles' finest players and world- class arrangers.

There are marvelously diverse big band grooves here that Willey and his jazz merchants are selling. For example, opener "Boogie Beast" is a "punk panther"-type prowl. "Down and Dirty" with a "Night in Tunisia" shade; "Dancing Hippo," where groove fits title; and the ballad, "Old Folks"—an album and Willey-playing highlight—that spews lush sentiments. "Little Treasures" is a 12/8 hard-hearted killer, one that could be imagined being out of Ferguson's book. The gorgeously played and presented "But for the Grace of God" closes the curtain.

Throughout, Willey demos that he is a stellar and chop-endowed trumpeter/bass trumpeter and composer. He's a classic throwback bopper (think Red Rodney, but, with a more robust sound, a sly hipster, and the high priest of "Boptism." His improv on all three axes features swinging, intriguing nuggets that he develops with a matador's flair. He's a thoroughly inventive and joyous player and, very importantly on this session, his solo forays are in complete synch with the sophisticated charts around him ("Walter the Ferret," "Not So Fast!," "Funk Heap,"). That's the sign of a mature jazz artist. Willey's slick compositions—all ten, save the workhorse, "Old Folks," are the works of a wit's pen, for example, "Eyes All for You"—a "Body and Soul" triple-metered artifact.

In terms of those arrangements, Willey and producer Dan Fornero wisely brought in the best in the biz—Gordon Goodwin with a fistful, Wally Minko's four aces, Mike Abene's cool deuce, and Chris Walden's, too. Even jazz arranging padrino Sammy Nestico paid a surprise visit to the session to lend aural support. These charts are intelligent, engaging, performance-challenging, and enhance both Willey's compositional talents and playing energies. The soloists in addition to Willey are plenty: Tom Hooten, Dan Higgins, Bob Sheppard, Andrew Synowiec, Sal Lozano, Wally Minko, Andy Martin, et al, all get ample spotlight and all sparkle. The production values, like all else is with Down and Dirty, are Grammy—worthy.

Down and Dirty is anything but. It's an in-the-pocket rocket—an ass-kicking, fun journey. The "Little Piggie" might have had roast beef, but, there's no pork here. Chef Willey and his crew are makin' some very tasty bacon.

Track Listing: Boogie Beast; Down & Dirty; Walter the Ferret; Eyes All for You; Dancing Hippo; Ed Zachary Meets Gregory Peccary; How ‘Bout That?; Old Folks; Little Treasures; Not So Fast!; Funk Heap; But for the Grace of God.

Personnel: Rich Willey: leader, composer, trumpet, flugelhorn, bass trumpet; Wayne Bergeron: trumpet; Dan Fornero: trumpet; Rob Schaer: trumpet; Mike Rocha: trumpet; Tony Bonsera: trumpet; Dan Higgins, Brian Scanlon, Bob Sheppard, Jeff Driskill, Sal Lozano, Jay Mason: saxophones; Alex Iles: trombone; Andy Martin: trombone; Steve Holtman: trombone; Bill Reichenbach: bass trombone; Dylan Hart: French horn; Danielle Ondarza: French horn; Wally Minko: keyboards, synthesizer; Andrew Synowiec: guitar; Edwin Livingston: bass; Peter Erskine: drums; Joey De Leon: percussion; Songa Lee: violin; Josefina Vergara: violin; Benjamin Jacobson: violin; Natalie Leggett: violin; Marisa Kuney: violin; Jennifer Choi Fischer: violin; Mark Robertson: violin; Maya Magub: violin; Joel Pargman: violin; Sara Parkins: violin; Eun Mee Ahn: violin; Nina Evtuhov: violin; Daphne Chen: violin; Amy Hershberger: violin; Tamara Hatwan: violin; Michele Richards: violin; Carrie Kennedy: violin; Armen Anassian: violin; Ji Young An: violin; Lorand Lokuszta: violin; Neal Hammond: violin; Lucia Micarelli: violin; Andrew Duckles: viola; Eric Rynearson: viola; Alma Fernandez: viola; Karen Elaine: viola; Carolyn Riley: viola; Victor de Almeida: viola; Jacob Braun: cello; Vanessa Freebairn-Smith: cello; Cecilia Tsan: cello; Dennis Karmazyn: cello; David Stone: bass; Trey Henry: bass. Special guest: Thomas Hooten: piccolo trumpet (2).

Title: Down & Dirty | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Wise Cat Records

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