Trumpeter Rich Wetzel may be leading a pretty darned good big band out on the left coast in Tacoma, WA, but it’s hard to say for sure, as the evidence on the band’s second album, Live!, suggests that the microphones may have been inadvertently placed somewhere north of Seattle. We exaggerate, of course, to make a point, which is that the over-all sound quality on the album is, shall we say, somewhat less than pristine although there’s no doubt that it was recorded live. But even though the brass and reeds are often camouflaged, drummer Aaron Hennings comes through loud and clear. Does he ever!
Apparently, Tacoma’s cavernous Rialto Theatre isn’t the best possible venue in which to record a Jazz orchestra, and that’s a shame, as such unflattering sound is a disservice to musicians who are not only talented but seem to be busting their butts to entertain and please their audience. Among those who are ill-served by the theatre’s dreadful acoustics is trumpeter Wayne Bergeron, who made the trip from Los Angeles to Tacoma to take part in the concert and conduct a trumpet clinic. Bergeron, who recently released his debut album, You Call This a Living?, and is replacing the great George Graham as lead trumpeter in Bob Florence’s Limited Edition, is the guest soloist on “St. Louis Blues” and Florence’s “Tell Your Story,” and trades well-aimed volleys with Wetzel on Andy Weiner’s “Cruisin’ for a Bluesin’” and Bill Holman’s memorable arrangement of “Malaguena.” Bergeron is smokin’, as one would expect, but like everyone else he's fighting a losing battle with the theatre’s troublesome ambiance. While the ballads (“Tell Your Story,” “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” Ken Hanna’s “Bon Homme Richard,” the last featuring a first–rate trombonist in Jim Stevens) are at least borderline tolerable; it is while listening to the up-tempo numbers (“La Virgen de la Macarena,” “MacArthur Park,” “Cruisin’ for a Bluesin’,” “Malaguena”) that one longs to hear the GHJO in more agreeable surroundings especially as what emerges from the morass is some quite respectable blowing by Bergeron, Wetzel, Stevens, alto Cliff Colon, tenor Kareem Kandi, guitarist Mason Hargrove and others. It’s good to capture and preserve the spontaneity and excitement of a live performance, but not when the music is compromised by such deplorable acoustics. I wish I’d been at the Rialto to hear the orchestra in person, as I am sure my reaction would have been far more favorable. As it is, I can’t recommend the album to anyone but those who love big bands so dearly they don’t care how mediocre the recorded sound may be.