There is one unequivocal reason to acquire this album, and it can be summarized in two words: Carl Saunders. If you’ve not yet heard this unsung master of the trumpet / flugelhorn, it’s time you did. And if you’ve already been introduced I needn’t say more, as no doubt the decision has already been made to lay your hands on a copy of his second album, Eclecticism. While I can’t honestly say that I was inflamed by the decision to pair Saunders with a string orchestra, his consummate artistry overshadows every digression including several out–of–the–ordinary choices of material. What emerges is a near–facsimile of “Carl Saunders meets the Metropole Orchestra,” although Carl didn’t have to travel to the Netherlands to record it. Some listeners may find the strings and French horns delightful; I’d prefer less strings, more Saunders. As is the fashion these days, Carl overdubs his trumpet on most tracks to become a one–man “trumpet section,” a device that works quite well in spite of the recording’s often intemperate reverb. The rhythm section, even though submerged at times beneath the weight of the strings, is top–drawer, and here we must append an asterisk to the “one unequivocal reason” for procuring the album, as there is an ancillary reason — pianist Billy Childs, whose tasteful interludes always leave one nodding his (or her) head in earnest appreciation. Saunders and Childs comprise an harmonious team, each one as staunchly resourceful as he is technically precise. Saunders plays muted trumpet on Jackson Stock’s “Pentiction,” flugel on the standard “Old Folks” (arranged by Joe Lano). He wrote “Reaching for You,” “Blues for the Common Man” and adapted Frédéric Chopin’s “Valse Opus 64, #2” for trumpet, strings and rhythm. The date’s better–known arrangers include Bob Florence (“Fascinatin’ Rhythm”), Bill Holman (“Surrey with the Fringe on Top”) and Clare Fischer (“Last Night When We Were Young’). Other original compositions are by Scott Tibbs (“The Price of Admission,” “Night Reverie”) and Larry Dominello (“First Gift”) who also arranged “Reaching for You.” As far as unalloyed Jazz is concerned, Saunders and Childs have some of their best moments on the curtain–raiser (“Fascinatin’ Rhythm”) and finale (“Blues for the Common Man”). Elsewhere, the strings tend to impede any decisive movement in that direction. Eclecticism, of course, means choosing the most suitable components from a number of sources or styles, and as a showcase for Saunders’ trumpet–playing acumen, this wide–ranging album achieves its goal. On the other hand, one can’t help thinking that Saunders could have unloaded the strings, saved himself a substantial piece of change, and made an even better one with Childs, bassist Magnusson and drummer Savino. Maybe next time . . .
Contact:SNL Records, Suite 181, 3230 E. Flamingo Road, Las Vegas, NV 89121. Web site, www.carlsaunders.com; e–mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Track Listing: Fascinatin
Personnel: Carl Saunders, trumpet, flugelhorn; Richard Todd, David Duke, Beth Lano, French horn; Assa Dori (concertmaster), Murray Adler, Patricia Aiken, Armen Anassian, Becky Bunnell, Isabelle Daskoff, Armen Garabedian, Marilyn Harding, Tiffany Hu, Joe Ketendjian, Irma Neumann, Don Palmer, Anatoly Rosinsky, Rob Sanov, Olivia Tsui, Elizabeth Wilson, violin; Lynn Grants, Andrew Picken, Kazi Pitelka, Karie Prescott, viola; Maurice Grants, Armen Kasjikian, Richard Treat, Cecilia Tsan, cello; Billy Childs, piano; Bob Magnusson, bass; Dave Stone, arco bass; Santo Savino, drums; Don Williams, percussion.