When I'm listening to a big band album for the first time, the "grin factor usually comes into play. The wider the smile, the greater the excitement and pleasure. As Gary Urwin's smoking arrangement of Lester Young's "Lester Leaps In sprang through the headphones, I was grinning from ear to ear, and the smile seldom slackened through the whole of Urwin's latest recording, Kindred Spirits
in spite of the fact that the overall balance, as is true of so many big-band enterprises these days, is often well out of whack. The ensemble upstages and engulfis the soloists, who sometimes sound as though they are performing in a nearby roomexcept for pianist Christian Jacob, who comes through loud and clear.
But no matter. When the "kindred spirits are über-swingers Bill Watrous and Pete Christlieb, featured as front-line partners for the first time during their long and illustrious careers, one can pretty confidently rest assured that sparks are going to fly. Urwin's inventive charts (he arranged everything) were written to showcase their remarkable talents, and one or both of them solos on each of the album's dozen numbers. If you've heard trombonist Watrous and/or tenor saxophonist Christlieb, I needn't tell you that they are among the world's best at what they do; if you haven't, fasten your seat belt and prepare for an invigorating ride.
Urwin's ensemble is a powerhouse, as one would expect from the cream of Los Angeles-area studio and session players, and that power is further amplified by the recording engineer. Even so, Watrous, Christlieb and the other soloists can usually be heard above the uproar, and what they have to say is well worth some extra concentration. The band sits out on the last track, "I'll Be Seeing You, on which the headliners are accompanied only by Jacob.
"Seeing You is one of five standards, complemented by "Lester, Neal Hefti's "Girl Talk, Antonio Carlos Jobim's "No More Blues, Miles Davis/Wayne Shorter's "E.S.P., Jerry Goldsmith's theme from the movie Chinatown, the traditional folk song "Danny Boy and Urwin's lone original, "Kindred Spirits. Tempos range from medium to up, save for Christlieb's ballad feature, "My Foolish Heart, and "Danny Boy, on which Watrous holds forth. There are some strange goings-on at the end of "E.S.P., as Jacob suddenly starts rushing as if he had a train to catch, but I assume that's the way Urwin wrote the chart.
Even though Watrous and Christlieb are the marquee names, there are engaging statements along the way by Jacob, trumpeters Bobby Shew and Ron King, bassist Trey Henry and drummer Ralph Razze, electrifying high-note work by lead trumpeter Wayne Bergeron, and a solid performance by the assiduous rhythm section. Add 'em up and you have more than an hour of spectacular big band jazz that never fails to please. Even the uneven sound couldn't wipe the smile off my face.
Track Listing: Lester Leaps In; Theme from
Personnel: Gary Urwin: leader, arranger; Wayne Bergeron, Bobby Shew, Rick Baptist/Mike McGuffey,
Warren Luening/Ron King, John Thomas/Dan Fornero: trumpet; Kim Richmond, Rusty
Higgins, Pete Christlieb, Dan Higgins/Jeff Driskill, John Mitchell: reeds; Charlie Loper, Alex
Iles, Dave Woodley: trombone; Rich Bullock: bass trombone; Christian Jacob: piano; Frank
Browne: guitar; Trey Henry: bass; Ralph Razze: drums. On selected tracks: John Yoakum:
English horn; Amy Shulman: harp; Michito Sanchez, Richie Gajate-Garcia: percussion.
Special guest Bill Watrous: trombone.
Title: Kindred Spirits
| Year Released: 2006
| Record Label: Summit Records