On New Jazz Standards, Volume 2
(yes, the title may seem a tad optimistic at first glance; more about that later), trombonist Scott Whitfield
leads a well-honed quartet playing the music of Carl Saunders
. If the name Carl Saunders is new to you, he is quite simply one of the finest jazz trumpeters you've never heardand he may well be one of the best composers too. As for Whitfield, Saunders' personal choice to preside over this album, he is one of the Los Angeles area's foremost jazz trombonists, one who has led big bands on both coasts, played with a number of others, recorded ten albums as a leader and more than fifty as a sideman while "doubling" as a vocalist with wife Ginger Berglund
and teaching at San Jose State University. If that sounds like a heavy schedule, it isand as you will hear, for good reason.
When Saunders isn't playing trumpet in some group or otherwhich, it must be said, isn't oftenand when he has free time during gigs, he writes. And writes prolifically. In fact, Saunders recently assembled more than three hundred of his compositions in book form and published it as New Jazz Standards,
hence the name of this album, Volume 1 of which featured the late flutist Sam Most
(Summit Records 630). Most was a master craftsman, as is Whitfield. Few contemporary trombonists can match Whitfield's clarity of tone or technical dexterity, traits that bring to mind such past masters as Carl Fontana
, Urbie Green
, Bill Harris
and Jimmy Cleveland
. And as for improvisation and flat-out swinging, he sets the bar high there as well. Saunders not only chose his helmsman well, he gave him a backup crew that is second to none, anchored by timekeeper par excellence Peter Erskine
and featuring the always-resourceful pianist Christian Jacob
and metronomic bassist Kevin Axt
As to Saunders' themes, they are consistently bright and charming. While the presence of any new jazz standards is for listeners to determine, there's no doubt that Saunders has a keen ear for captivating melodies and the ability to arrange them in a tasteful and harmonious musical context. Most of them aren't based on popular standards, a staple of many jazz composers, but created out of whole cloth using only Saunders' fertile imagination as groundwork. The results are never less than admirable and often brilliant, ranging from ballads to blues, Latin to funk and straight-ahead swing. To add variety, Whitfield is overdubbed on four tracks to form a trombone choir. He and the quartet are superb, as are Saunders' prospective New Jazz Standards,
which await only the auspicious verdict of an impartial jury.
Prudence; More Wine; Big Darlin’; Melodocity; I Remember Thad; B Squad Blues; Gamma Count; Lolly’s Folly; Juarez; Another Tune for Bernie; Last Night’s Samba; Symphonky Blues.
Scott Whitfield: trombone; Christian Jacob: piano; Kevin Axt: bass; Peter Erskine: drums; Carl Saunders: composer, arranger.