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Almost every year, it seems, a marvelous new big band comes out of nowhere to bowl me over and leave an irrepressible smile on my face. In ’98, the mile–wide grin was occasioned by the high–flying Hawk–Richard Jazz Orchestra from Austin, TX, followed last year by trumpeter Kevin Seeley’s dazzling Emerald City ensemble from Seattle, WA. As the new millennium dawns I’m smiling rhapsodically again, and the impetus this time is the sharp and swinging Mark Buselli–Brent Wallarab Jazz Orchestra from Indianapolis, IN. For a segment of Jazz that has been pronounced dead on more than one occasion, the big bands certainly make a lively corpse! As usual when an unheralded ensemble makes such an indelible impression, a large share of credit must be given to the charts, all of which, in this case, were framed by Buselli or Wallarab. They include four originals by Buselli (“Jovian Comets,” “I Remember Sherrie,” “The Trouble with Triplets,” “Taboo”) and two by Wallarab (“A Gentle Fall,” “Happenstance”) complementing Buselli’s splendid arrangements of the standards “Everything I Love” and “Long Ago and Far Away” and Wallarab’s of “My One and Only Love,” “Nature Boy,” Buselli’s “Taboo” and Duke Ellington’s “Azure” and “Cottontail” (complete with razor–keen trombone soli). Frankly, I never thought I’d relish having that rabbit saddled up and running once more, but Buselli’s innovative approach changed my mind; he gives the shopworn thumper a fresh and engaging spin that reclaims its inherent magnetism. One of the more compelling aspects of the B–W orchestra is its notable restraint; while there is power to spare in every section, it is expended judiciously and always with the goal of adding more color and spice to the tonal pallette, a strategy that works exceedingly well throughout the session. This is a band that doesn’t have to scream to press home its musical ideas. There’s no need to dwell at length on the various soloists, as their names are unfamiliar, except to affirm that every one of them is first–rate, especially Buselli (trumpet), Wallarab (trombone), pianist Luke Gillespie (featured on “Jovian Comets”), clarinetist Chuck Carter (ditto on “My One and Only Love”) and tenors Frank Glover (clarinet on “Long Ago and Far Away”) and Dennis Riggins. The enterprising rhythm section (Gillespie, bassist John Huber, drummer Gene Markiewicz) is another strong point, as are lead trumpeter Larry Wiseman, bass trombonist Richard Dole and French horn player Celeste Holler who, with Buselli and Wallarab’s fabulous arrangements, help make Happenstance an early front–runner in the Best Big–Band Jazz Album of the Year sweepstakes.
Track listing: A Gentle Fall; Jovian Comets; Happenstance; My One and Only Love; Everything I Love; Azure; Cottontail; Nature Boy; I Remember Sherrie; The Trouble with Triplets; Taboo; Long Ago and Far Away (68:10).
Mark Buselli, trumpet, flugelhorn; Brent Wallarab, trombone; Tom Meyer, Dennis Riggins, Harry Miedema, Tom Walsh, Frank Glover, Chuck Carter, Greg Imboden, reeds; Larry Wiseman, Jeff Conrad, James de la Garza, Allen Miller, trumpet, flugelhorn; Loy Herrick, Gina Wallarab, Nate Maryland, Richard Dole, trombone; Celeste Holler, French horn; Luke Gillespie, piano; John Huber, bass; Gene Markiewicz, drums.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.