The music on Seattle-based saxophonist Jim Cutler's second big-band album is thematic; that is to say, it was written with people, places or experiences in mind. Half of the album's ten engaging essays were written by trumpeter Daniel Barry, four by Cutler and one ("Visions at the Monkey Bar") by baritone saxophonist James DeJoie who has his own tour de force, Barry's presumably Sauter-Finegan inspired "Spirit World."
The shuffling opener, "Bella's Boogie," was penned by Cutler for his second daughter, Annabella, the funky "Gimme Some Sugar, Baby!" for his wife, Stephanie. The easy-flowing "Thumper," Cutler writes, was composed for "every bassist I have ever played with who grew tired of up-tempo, bebop-inspired renditions of jazz standards that are played at nearly every jam session" (this laid-back walker features bassist Philip Demaree), while the robust finale, "Rush to Delivery," he discloses, was inspired by "the often piercing, high brass of the [Stan] Kenton band . . ." Aside from "Spirit World," Barry's congenial compositions salute a Peruvian river ("The Mighty Urubamba"), a fertility dance using the waltz-like Afro-Peruvian Lando rhythm ("La Folia Lando") and the patron saint of musicians ("St Cecilia's Day"). He also wrote the impassioned "Cry Out Loud," which dates from 2003, when the U.S. preparing to go to war, as "a reflection of one person's struggle to make sense out of the decision to pursue a course of action leading to bloodshed."
DeJoie, outstanding on "Spirit World," is one of a number of soloists whose pivotal contributions should not be overlooked, even though none of them is named. While it can be plausibly surmised that Cutler handles the alto solos, the trumpet solos may or may not be Barry's. Be that as it may, suffice to say the various improvisations are in capable hands. Pianist Gregg Robinson designs a charming introduction to "Thumper," guitarist Dennis Rea has his say on "Cry Out Loud" and drummer Garey Williams enlivens "Monkey Bar" before DeJoie reappears to deliver another muscular solo. Notwithstanding the provenance of its assorted components, Gimme Some Sugar, Baby! is in essence contemporary big-band jazz of the highest order, splendidly written by Cutler, Barry and DeJoie and unerringly performed by Cutler's first-class ensemble. Thumbs up.
Bella’s Boogie; The Mighty Urubamba; St. Cecilia’s Day; Gimme Some Sugar, Baby!; Spirit World; La Folia Lando; Cry Out Loud; Thumper; Visions at the Monkey Bar; Rush to Delivery.
Jim Cutler: leader, alto sax, flute; Mike Mines: trumpet; Pete Kirkman: trumpet; Al Keith: trumpet; Daniel Barry: trumpet; Randy Burgeson: trumpet (7); Gordon Brown: alto sax; Mike West: tenor sax; Paul Gillespie: tenor sax; James DeJoie: baritone sax, flute; Chris Amemiya: trombone; Steve Kirk: trombone; Kress Fransen: trombone; Bill Park: bass trombone; Gregg Robinson: piano; Dennis Rea: guitar; Philip Demaree: bass; Garey Williams: drums; Ernesto Pedianco: percussion.