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Ed Puddick Big Band / Frank Macchia / Rick Wald NY 16

Jack Bowers By

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The album opens with a Latin-inflected reading of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," on which everyone solos. Hall is up next, offering an earnest and bluesy vocal on "Careless Love." Pianist Tom Ranier is front and center on the lyrical waltz "Three Jazzy Blind Mice," which precedes the arduously constructed "Itsy Bitsy Spider" (solos by Sheppard on soprano sax and trombonist Alex Iles) and the first of three two-song medleys, "Pick a Bale of Cotton and "Shortnin' Bread" (on which drummer Peter Erskine sets the unerring compass, as he does on every number). Ranier solos again, after which Macchia and Sheppard trade shots on tenor). Sutton is smooth and sultry on the seldom-heard folk ballad, "Silver Dagger," and the ensemble excels on "Three Cool Blind Mice" (as Macchia writes, his "impression of Johnny Mandel and Duke Ellington collaborating on a tune"), which embraces even-tempered solos by King on bass flute, Grant Geissman on guitar.

There's a big-band vibe on the second medley, "Cindy" / "Li'l Liza Jane," with Erskine leading the charge behind forceful statements by Geissman, bass trombonist Bill Reichenbach, Sheppard (alto), Bergeron and Macchia (tenor). The venerable "Billy Boy" (which precedes "Frankie and Johnny" instead of following it; a correction is posted on the jacket), is a slow-paced feature for Iles, while "Frankie and Johnny," also taken at an unhurried tempo, brings to the fore Mason's baritone sax and Kevin Porter's muted trombone. Trey Henry's bass introduces "This Old Man," whose resonance is underlined by Macchia's gravelly voice and rumbling low notes by Sheppard (bass clarinet), Lozano (contra alto clarinet), Mason and Macchia (contra bass clarinet). The closer, and final medley, pairs "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" in a seaworthy craft that showcases Reichenbach on bass trumpet, vibraphonist Michael Hatfield, Sheppard on tenor and King on piccolo grooving to a New Orleans-style beat that leads to a powerful finishing kick.

While Folk Songs for Jazzers was indeed a tough act to follow, this is one Son who has lived up to his promise and made his "father" proud.

Rick Wald 16 / NYC

Play That Thing

Glowbow Records

2010

If you're in the mood for big band jazz with a twist—make that a lot of twists, not to mention unanticipated turns—this second album by composer and arranger Rick Wald's 16 / NYC should tickle your ivories and set your heart aflutter. Wald says he likes to suggest "moods" when composing, and the moods here range from sociable to somber with a number of unforeseen detours along the way. That's true not only of Wald's five originals but his fresh looks at Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage," Wayne Shorter's "Prince of Darkness" and the venerable Swing Era staple, "Stompin' at the Savoy," each of which is spruced up by Wald's resourceful eye and ear.

Despite the presence of "Savoy," there's no Count Basie-style swing on these premises, nor are there any spine-tingling shout choruses. The closest the ensemble comes to spreading its wings is on the up-tempo "Gonna Getcha," but even here the impression is one of studiously controlled intensity rather than unbridled power. "Savoy" is more waltz going on foxtrot than flag-waver, while "Maiden Voyage" and "Prince of Darkness" are taken at a considerably slower pace than is usually the norm. "Play That Thing" is quirkily animated, with brisk ad libs by pianist Ted Kooshian, alto Lou Marini and drummer Jeff Brillinger, while Kooshian, trombonist Noah Bless, tenor Adam Kolker and baritone Terry Goss are suitably articulate on the scampering "Gonna Getcha." In the liner notes, Wald writes that the 16 / NYC is "the best band I've ever had," a sentiment that is readily confirmed by the presence of blue-chip sidemen in every chair. Play That Thing was recorded, he writes, "live, with no over-dubs." The sound is clear and well-defined, and there are no audible lapses or missteps.

As to the music, that's a matter of personal taste. It's explicitly challenging, and those who'd prefer to be washed along on a tidal wave of turbulence and tension may find Wald's provocative charts less than persuasive, whereas the more serious listener should find them consistently rewarding. Wald is well-versed in the use of color and dynamics, and the ensemble readily masters every nuance. Unison passages are hermetic, soloists lucid and admirable. Besides those already named, they include trumpeters John Eckert and Jack Walrath, trombonists Art Baron and Sam Burtis, alto Loren Stillman, tenor Ted Nash and bassist Chip Jackson. Wald contributes a forceful alto solo on his lyrical composition, "Quascau."

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