The big band sounds gets an infusion of swing and swagger on Migration to Higher Ground, a session of high-octane straight ahead jazz from Jim Stranahan's dynamic Little Big Band. The album has Denver-based saxophonist and educator Jim Stranahan leading a twelve-piece ensemble comprised of some of the best players in Colorado gyrating through six big band arrangements. In addition, the leader also includes four tracks recorded in a sextet format that also features son and drummer, Colin Stranahan of the jazz trio group Stranahan, Zaleski and Rosato (pianist Glen Zaleski and bassist Rick Rosato).
On tap, six original swinging compositions delivered in a hard-driving fashion from the little big band that could. Opening the music is the Afro-Cuban romp "Mambo Facil" which, though the saxophonist writes, "represents a bullfighter...in Spain...depicting the battle," remains soundly grounded in core Afro-Cuban rhythms. From South of the border to the heart of jazz town, "Bayou Bounce" provides a funky beat inspired by the New Orleans-based Dirty Dozen Brass Band featuring a strong tuba bass line and pronounced horn play. The Stranahan original "Paul and Dave," dedicated to Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck, is perhaps the most ambitious chart of the album with fine solo moments from several players among them, guitarist Mike Abbott and flautist Joe Anderies.
The band opens up with a blasting brass on the propulsive Afro-Cuban elements of the title track cautioning the listener to track to a higher ground lest the rumbling beat knocks one over. "Blues and a Half" is the first tune performed by the sextet and features trumpeter Brad Goode and pianist Zaleski in the forefront with Stranahan's alto saxophone voice leading the music thereafter. The repertoire also features three cover tunes including a perky rendition of Stanahan's favorite Brubeck piece, "In Your Own Sweet Way" showcasing superb solos and a blistering reed section, and Sonny Rollins' classic "St. Thomas" highlighting son Colin on a pounding drum solo leading one of the finest rhythm section's around.
Stranahan saves his personal best for last performing all of the saxophone lines on the Charlie Parker classic "Donna Lee" backed up by his son's trio, this barn burner caps off one of the finest big band/small group ensemble recordings on the jazz landscape. Migration to Higher Ground is nothing short of spectacular as saxophonist Jim Stranahan and his Little Big Band pack quite a punch on this small package of pure pleasure.
Mambo Facil; Bayou Bounce; Paul and Dave; Migration to Higher Ground; Blues and a Half; In Your Own Sweet Way; St. Thomas; Straight From the Source; Donna Lee.
Jim Stranahan: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Caleb Starbuck: alto saxophone; Joe Anderies: alto flute, tenor saxophone; Chuck Schneider: tenor saxophone; Brad Goode: lead trumpet; Hugh Ragin: trumpet; Wade Sander: trombone; Ben Faust: sousaphone (2); Justin Adams: piano; Mike Abbott: guitar; Bijoux Barbosa: bass; Todd Reid: drums; Glen Zaleski: piano (5, 7, 8, 9); Rick Rosato: bass(5, 7, 8, 9); Colin Stranahan: drums(5, 7, 8, 9).