Trombonist John Fedchock may be a seasoned veteran, but he's not set in his ways as a player, arranger, or composer. While some big band leaders of his ilk either try to recreate the past or completely abandon it, attempting to reboot themselves by genuflecting at the altar of modernism, he isn't one of them. Fedchock appreciates the history of the music yet he understands that time marches on. With that in mind, he delivers Like It Is, an album that, in his own words, is built on the idea of "melding the greatness of the past with a fresh perspective using today's ears."
Across these ten tracks, Fedchock and his crack crew of musicians prove that big band music can be fresh and dynamic without losing its essence. The program is split evenly between Fedchock originals and his arrangements of classics, all of which offer something familiar and different. It doesn't take long to recognize that on the album opener"You And The Night And The Music." The instantly identifiable melodic strains are given a natty wardrobe update and the piece receives some harmonic tweaks. But the musical overhaul does nothing to obscure the enduring beauty of the song.
Fedchock continues to artfully work at that balance point throughout the program. The title track, an original "influenced by '60s boogaloo and funky cha-cha," allows him to project his own personality into an Eddie Harris-esque setting; The melodic heart of "Never Let Me Go" remains intact while flowing and swirling harmonies alter the background a bit; Cedar Walton's "Ojos De Rojo" becomes a sweltering epic, true to its roots yet growing far from those points; and Duke Ellington's "Just Squeeze Me" brings humor into the picture, marrying straightforward sounds with jocular intrusions and asides. It's all yesterday and today folded into a single package.
As with any big band project, a good amount of responsibility rests with the musicians, those capable of either making the notes fizzle or come to life. Fedchock evidently knows that all too well, as he only works with the best of the best. Big band mainstays like saxophonists Rich Perry, Scott Robinson, and Gary Smulyan, trumpeters Tony Kadleck and Scott Wendholt, trombonist Keith O'Quinn, and bass trombonist George Flynn populate this killer band. Eleven of the nineteen musicians credited on the album have a chance to shine as soloists, and none disappoint. Standouts include pianist Allen Farnham, saxophonist Charles Pillow, Wendholt, and, of course, Fedchock. These men alternately bring fire, soul, grace, and muscle to the wonder-filled music on Like It Is.
You And The Night And The Music; Like It Is; Never Let Me Go; Just Sayin'; Ojos De Rojo; Hair Of The Dog; Havana; Just Squeeze Me; For Heaven's Sake; Ten Thirty 30.
John Fedchock: trombone; Mark Vinci: alto saxophone, flute; Charles Pillow: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Rich Perry: tenor saxophone; Walt Weiskopf: tenor saxophone; Gary Smulyan: baritone saxophone (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9); Scott Robinson: baritone saxophone (2, 7, 8, 10); Tony Kadleck: trumpet, flugelhorn; Craig Johnson: trumpet, flugelhorn; Scott Wendholt: trumpet, flugelhorn (2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 20); John Bailey: trumpet, flugelhorn (1, 4, 9); Barry Ries: trumpet, flugelhorn; Keith O'Quinn: trombone; Clark Gayton: trombone; George Flynn: bass trombone; Allen Farnham: piano; Dick Sarpola: bass; Dave Ratajczak: drums; Bobby Sanabria: percussion (2, 5, 7).
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