When you've been a musician as long as Al Muirhead has, you not only earn many friends in the business, you also recognize who among them can play. For Northern Adventures, Muirhead's second album as leader of his own group, the eighty-one-year-old Canadian trumpeter assembled a who's who of the finest musicians his country has to offer and let them have a go, jam-session style. The result is an album whose fun quotient almost eclipses its virtuosity. "Our only plan," Muirhead writes in the liner notes, "was to go into the studio and have a great time doing what we do best: play!"
A dozen musicians take part in the enterprise, with Muirhead the only one clocking in on every track. He plays trumpet on five numbers, bass trumpet (shades of Cy Touff) on six, flugelhorn on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "How Insensitive." Group sizes vary (usually four or five), with Muirhead escorted along the way by such Canadian standouts as flugel Guido Basso, saxophonists Mike Murley and Campbell Ryga, guitarist Reg Schwager and pianists Tommy Banks and Don Thompson (who doubles on bass on "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise"). Kodi Hutchinson plays bass on three numbers, Chris Andrew (piano) and Mike Rud (guitar) sit in on two apiece, and Ben Wittman is the percussionist on Cole Porter's "Night and Day" (the first of two vocals by Laila Biali who also plays piano on that track). Everyone carries out his assignments so well that the absence of a drummer is barely noticed.
Muirhead, who came of age listening to the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Clifford Brown, straddles the fence between bop and trad, calling to mind past masters Ruby Braff and Warren Vache, among others, on such warhorses as, for example, "Come Rain or Come Shine" or "They Can't Take That Away from Me." Elsewhere, the vibe is rather more modern, as on "Morning Sunrise" and the sunny opener, "Love Me or Leave Me." Basso ("They Can't Take That Away," "Emily," "You'll Never Know"), another near-octogenarian (and Boss Brass veteran), is always a pleasure to hear, as are Thompson, Schwager and the dynamic saxophone duo, Murley and Ryga. If there's a weak link in the chain it's Biali, but as everyone else is so splendid we'll let that pass and profess that Muirhead's Northern Adventures (according to the album's jacket, Volume 1 with, presumably, more to come) are well worth seeking out and sharing.
Love Me or Leave Me; They Can’t Take That Away from Me; Night & Day; I’ve Never Been in Love Before; Come Rain or Come Shine; Emily; Softly as in a Morning Sunrise; The Nearness of You; How Insensitive; You’ll Never Know; All the Things You Are; Nice Work If You Can Get it.
Al Muirhead: trumpet (2, 3, 5-7), bass trumpet (1, 4, 8, 10-12), flugelhorn (9); Guido Basso: flugelhorn (2, 6, 10); Campbell Ryga: soprano sax (5), alto sax (11); Mike Murley: tenor sax (4, 9); Reg Schwager: guitar (1, 7, 12); Mike Rud: guitar (5, 11); Tommy Banks: piano (2, 6, 10); Don Thompson: piano (1, 12), bass (7); Kodi Hutchinson: bass (1, 3, 8); Laila Biali: vocals (3, 8), piano (3); Ben Wittman: percussion (3).