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Scott Whitfield Jazz Orchestra East: Live at Birdland

Jim Santella By

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His featured solo on 'Laura' gives you a pretty good idea of what trombonist Scott Whitfield is all about. With a polished tone and fluid technique, he interprets the lovely ballad with care and a natural ease. His effective use of the instrument's upper register stands out as a tool for the display of his lyrical side. The trombone, after all, makes a perfect partner for sharing a love of pure melody. Slow and easy, the familiar tune wafts over the nightclub's audience and creates an umbrella of togetherness for like-minded fans. Improvisation on the song's melody, however, turns into a frantic adventure to see how many notes one can fit into each bar. Whitfield, tenor saxophonist Dan Jordan, and trumpeter Mike Ponella reach into their straight-ahead bag of tricks and pull out rapid-fire clusters of notes during their solos, which they strew about in haphazard fashion.

In his big band arrangements, Whitfield prefers the delicate mixture of flutes and trumpets for slow-moving lines of introduction. Their distant, high-pitched timbres give the session a lightness that carries through to the end of each piece. The band's bottom doesn't get a chance to figure in prominently. Thus, the balance remains tipped in favor of light clouds of harmony.

The band swings through an eclectic program of originals and standards. The J.J. Johnson piece that closes the album, "In Walked Horace," draws a ready comparison to the bebop mentor through Whitfield's fluid technique. Like Johnson, this younger trombonist/bandleader revels in creative improvisation over an established theme. His syncopated accents run confidently over familiar territory. The two pieces where he sings do not fare as well. Whitfield is at his best when climbing all over the horn and turning mainstream jazz charts into lush landscapes.

Hot solo work comes from other directions, too. Several band members, in particular, make memorable contributions: pianist Kenny Ascher, alto & soprano saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer, and baritone saxophonist Dave Schumacher.

Whitfield's big band swings with the tradition of modern jazz. With a little more attention paid to section balance through their musical arrangements, the band could turn their performances into superior engagements.


Track Listing: One-Way Street; Laura; Sapphaire Eyes; Juiced Friends; Mimosa; The Gift Of Love; Laughin

Personnel: Scott Whitfield

Title: Live at Birdland | Year Released: 2004


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