The liner notes tout this band as "a veritable who's who among the Los Angeles area's most accomplished studio and big-band artists." That's quite true, which is precisely why Kindred Spirits falls a bit flat. It shares much of its personnel with most every other white big band project in Southern California, which makes it essentially sound like every other white big band project in Southern California.
LA is afflicted with this studio-band syndrome, wherein just about anyone who styles himself a bandleader, composer or arranger can wheedle the services of people like Kim Richmond, Rusty Higgins, Wayne Bergeron, Charlie Loper and Trey Henry for a fee. Gary Urwin is a respectable arranger, but hardly distinguishable from any of the other arrangers who suck this pool of musicians dry annually.
This could just as easily be a Bob Florence disc, or insert another West Coast name of your choice. It's as formulaic as most everything else coming out of that scene, which will appeal greatly to a select core of fans but will leave more creative ears cold. Even the surprising choices of Miles' "E.S.P." and the theme from "Chinatown" sound like they were pulled out of the stock-chart box.
That said, there's no arguing about the musicianship of many of these folks, especially designated frontmen Bill Watrous and Pete Christlieb. Watrous remains one of the most impressive trombonists in the business, and Christlieb plays with as much verve now as he did in his thirties and forties. Together they make a powerful front line, and Urwin's band-for-hire gives them firm, swinging support. If only there were more surprises in the music. The most charm lies in the one non-big band track, a piano/tenor/trombone trio on "I'll Be Seeing You" dedicated to the late DJ Chuck Niles.
Lester Leaps In; Theme from
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.