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Westchester Jazz Orchestra: Maiden Voyage Suite

Dan McClenaghan By

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Maiden Voyage (Blue Note, 1965) was a classic quintet recording from pianist Herbie Hancock, a concept album with the sea as the theme. With a clear view in hindsight, The Westchester Jazz Orchestra's re-imagination of that timeless music with Maiden Voyage Suite seems a natural. The sound of the original had oceanic ebb and flow, from gentle and tidal to turbulent and stormy, and the added harmonics of the multiple brass and reeds enhances this atmospheric.

At the time he recorded his classic set, Hancock was in the middle of his tenure with what came to be called "The Second Great Miles Davis Quintet." He was plucked from a wellspring of talent (the trumpeter had an uncanny knack for doing that) not only for piano chops—Hancock was a prodigy who at the age of eleven performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—but also for his songwriting acumen. "Little One," from Maiden Voyage, became a part of Davis' repertoire and ultimately appeared his ESP (Columbia, 1965).

The original Maiden Voyage had a classical tinge of depth and complexity, but the tunes were also enormously accessible—catchy, even. For Maiden Voyage Suite—its second recording, following 2007's All In (WJO Records)—WJO has taken Hancock's timeless recording and treated the music to the grandeur and richness of a big band.

With big bands, a good deal depends on the charts. The superb arrangements for this set are supplied by the band's artistic director/conductor, Mike Holober and WJO trumpeter Tony Kadleck, as well as frequent WJO contributor, trombonist Pete McGuinness. McGuinness' arrangement of the title tune—the most recognizable melody after, perhaps, "Little One"—rises and falls on a surging fanfare intro before David Brandom's soprano saxophone swells out of the background for a circuitous solo slot that gives way to Marvin Stamm measured, calm-after-the-storm flugelhorn s feature.

Soloing—varied in personality and approach, with an ear to the music's overall mood—is another important facet of the success of this (or any) big band outing. Here, every tune features two or three excellent individual out -front contributions, from Larry Farrell's gorgeously fluid trombone and Jay Brandford's gliding alto sax on "Little One," and Ralph Lalama's tight, hot tenor sax burn on "Dolphin Dance," to pianist Ted Rosenthal's frenetic sparkle on "Survival of the Fittest, Part 1."

The heyday of big bands may have passed, and the large ensemble recordings are projects that cost so much time and effort to produce that they are certainly crafted with heart and soul, for the love of the music. A good percentage of them are very well done, but very few rise to the level of inspiration and excellence of The Westchester Jazz Orchestra's Maiden Voyage Suite, a top big band outing of the year.

Track Listing: Prologue; Maiden Voyage; Eye of the Hurricane; Little One; Interlude; Survival of the Fittest, Part One; Survival of the Fittest, Part 2; Dolphin Dance; Epilogue.

Personnel: Jay Brandford: alto and soprano saxophones; David Brandon: alto and soprano saxophones; Ralph Lalama: tenor saxophone; Jason Rigby: tenor saxophone; Ed Xiques: baritone saxophone; Tony Kadleck: trumpet, flugelhorn; Craig Johnson: trumpet and flugelhorn; Marvin Stamm: trumpet and flugelhorn; Jim Rotundi: trumpet and flugelhorn; Larry Dean Farrell: trombone; Keith O'Quinn: trombone; Bruce Eiden: trombone; George Flynn: bass trombone; Ted Rosenthal: piano; Harvie S: bass; Andy Watson: drums; Mike Holober: artistic director and conductor.

Title: Maiden Voyage Suite | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: WJO


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