North Greenbush Blues marks the recorded debut of Indiana-born, New York State-based trombonist Phil Allen's glove-tight and remarkably robust Concert Jazz Band. The album has many pleasures, but what stands out most are Allen's impressive charts, which give the ensemble ample sustenance and reason to shine. Allen wrote six of the album's nine tunes and arranged every number including Dylan Canterbury's fast-moving "Speed Trap," Chris Pasin's melodious "Fragile Creature" and Gary McFarland's emotive "Why Are You Blue?"
The twelve-member ensemble encompasses three trumpets, four saxophones, two trombones and rhythm. Allen and Tyler Giroux play valve trombone exclusively, while tenors Kevin Barcomb and Nate Giroux alternated on the album's two recording dates, in June and July 2017. The rhythm, meanwhile, is in the capable hands of pianist Wayne Hawkins, bassist Lou Smaldone and drummer Michael Benedict. The CJB saunters from the starting gate with the sharply-grooved title theme, named for the town to which Allen and his wife Barbara relocated after moving from Colorado in 2014. Baritone saxophonist Scott Hall is the first among a number of engaging soloists to arrive, followed on the "Blues" by alto Dave Fisk and pianist Hawkins.
Canterbury's aptly named "Speed Trap" is one of the album's trio of "burners," the others being Allen's "Georgia Grump" (a brisk workout for the trombones based on "Sweet Georgia Brown") and emphatic "Northbeach," which rings down the curtain. Soloists are Hawkins, Barcomb and Canterbury on "Speed Trap," Allen and Tyler Giroux on "Georgia Grump," and Hawkins, trumpeter Steve Lambert and alto Dave Fisk on "Northbeach." Allen's "Winter Birds" is a lovely medium-tempo theme with tasteful solos by Lambert and Nate Giroux, "Sodwanna Bay" a lustrous waltz showcasing Allen and Canterbury. Tyler Giroux and alto Lee Russo are front and center on "Why Are You Blue?," trumpeter Pasin on his own "Fragile Creature." Allen wrote the tender ballad "Barbara," on which he solos with Hawkins (on electric piano), for his wife.
In sum, a generally impressive debut by Allen's Concert Jazz Band, which seems destined to move onward and upward as it advances toward maturity.
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