Gary Morgan is an unusually gifted composer and arranger. Veteran of the BMI Jazz Workshop, recipient of compositional grants from the NEA and the New Jersey Council on the Arts, he's put together a crisp 20-piece band that's studded with top-level players. Live at Birdland , recorded in 1998 and released in 2003, is lush and lively. Morgan's charts meld a Latin/Brazilian feel with shades of Gil Evans and modern classical music; it's a terrific mix, full of surprising textures and harmonies. A master of dynamics, Morgan builds excitement organically, moving each tune to a satisfying conclusion.
The set contains seven: three fine Morgan compositions, two from venerable Brazilian composers Milton Nascimento and Egberto Gismonti, and an intriguing waltz ("Cactus ) from Michael Rendish, a teacher at Berklee. It's a varied and enjoyable tour, with noteworthy peaks like Morgan's textured "Refractions and "The Black Prince, which begins as a sinuous bolero with a hint of dark, coiled power, and grows into a pulsing 6/8 Bembe rhythm. Nascimento's familiar "Vera Cruz is freshened with intricate harmonies, while Gismonti's "Salvador conjures the spirit of Bahia, ending the CD with whirling percussive joy.
Morgan, a native of Santiago, Chile who grew up in Toronto, has played his woodwinds with such astral bodies as Duke Ellington, Tony Bennett, Nancy Wilson, and Dizzy Gillespie; moving to New York in 1980, he switched to bass. When he launched the PanAmerica! Big Band in 1995, he was able to combine his passion for Latin music with other contemporary influences, creating a seamless and exciting whole. A 2005 performance at Dizzy Gillespie's B'hai Center space reconfirmed that PanAmericana! is one of the best bands around, both innovative and respectful of tradition.
Zilch City Blues, Refractions, Vera Cruz, The Black Prince, Cactus, Salvador
Jon Owens, Andy Gravish, Bill Mobley, Mike Mossman (trumpets), Chris Washburne, Steve Bleifuss, Elliot Mason, Chris Ollness (trombones), Mike Migliore, Dave Bixler, Adam Kolker, Dave Riekenberg, Terry Goss (saxophones, woodwinds), Chris Komer, Will Parker (French horns), Marcus Persiani (piano), Harvie S. (bass), Terry Clarke (drums), Memo Acevedo, Emedin Rivera (percussion)