Drummer / vibraphonist Michael Waldrop's intriguing Origin Suite (deftly arranged by Jack Cooper) sweeps away musical boundaries to make its points, one of which is that big-band jazz needn't be ensnared in a time warp but is capable of changing with the times to engender songs that are as aesthetically pleasing as they are thematically stylish.
The three-movement suite, written to feature Waldrop on drums and vibes, calls to mind in its powerful opening and closing narratives the iconic ensemble Weather Report while enfolding a mid-point ballad in the ECM style. Waldrop is showcased throughout, with guitarist Jimi Tunnell, tenor saxophonist Mario Cruz and German-based singer Marc Secara adding their voices at various points to help underscore the suite's incisive point of view. The work was inspired by the Cuban artist Wilfredo Lam, and its movements (La Jungla / Nativite / Al Final de la Noche) are named after a trio of his paintings.
The suite, however, serves as no more than an opening chapter, as the album moves ahead with nine generally impressive charts by Waldrop, Cooper, Tunnell and Gerald Stockton, three of which feature the big band, the others smaller ensembles. Waldrop is a constant, complementing star turns by percussionists Brad Dutz ("Through the Mist," "Vasconcelos") and Jose Rossy ("Mouzon"), pianist John Hansen ("Vasconcelos") and trombonist Scott Whitfield (trombone "section" plus acrobatic solo on the strenuous "Doppler Effect," on which Keith Jourdan comprises the multi-track "trumpet section").
"Through the Mist," inspired by the beauty of the Cascade mountains, brings to the forefront pianist John Hansen and bassist Chris Symer, while Cooper's modal "Sheath and Sword" does the same for trumpeter Mike Steinel and pianist Steve Snyder. Waldrop's lyrical, light-hearted "Ivana" is an homage to his wife, and Tunnell's hard-driving "Mouzon" (cleverly employing Scott Kinsey's synthesizer) salutes the late drummer Alphonse Mouzon. Stockton scored Waldrop's percussive "Doo Dat Tang" (which Waldrop describes as "Sun Ra meets Count Basie"), Cooper the drummer's Euro-inflected ballad "Belgrade." Dutz sits in admirably for the late Brazilian star Nana Vasconcelos on Waldrop's eponymous tribute (complete with obligatory bird calls) whose emphatic rhythms evoke the spirit of Brazil. Stockton wrote the sinuous (and overdubbed) "Doppler Effect" for the North Texas One O'Clock Lab Band (which, in spite of its virtuosity, took a pass), which leads to the placid finale, Waldrop's aptly named "Still Life." In closing, it should be noted that the orchestra and its smaller groupings are first-class, as are the various soloists (who include, besides those already named, trumpeter Larry Spencer, altos Tim Ishii and Will Campbell, tenor Chris McGuire, trombonists Tony Baker and Greg Waits, bassists Lynn Seaton and Scott Steed, guitarist Brian Monroney, pianist Wayne Peet and Snyder on organ ("Doo Dat Tang").
While Waldrop approaches big-band jazz from a singular point of view, one that he imparts to his orchestra and arrangers, the desire to enlighten and entertain the listener is always uppermost, which prevents the music from slipping away into inapt or ill-advised realms. True, it isn't always easy to absorb, but for those whose ears and hearts are open to fresh sounds and experiences, the Origin Suite offers myriad treasures to cherish. .
The Origin Suite (La Jungla / Nativite / Al Final de la Noche); Through the Mist; Sheath and Sword; Ivana; Mouzon; Doo Dat Tang; Belgrade; Vasconcelos; Doppler Effect; Still Life.
The Michael Waldrop Big Band (1-3, 5, 6, 8) – Michael Waldrop: leader, composer, arranger, drums, vibraphone; Jack Cooper: composer, arranger; Keith Jourdan: trumpet; David Spencer: trumpet; Larry Spencer: trumpet; Mike Steinel: trumpet; Will Campbell, Tim Ishii, Mario Cruz, Chris McGuire, Paul Baker: woodwinds; Anthony Williams: trombone; Tony Baker: trombone; Greg Waits: trombone; John Wasson: trombone; Steve Snyder: piano, organ; Jim Tunnell: guitar (1-3); Noel Johnstone: guitar (5, 6, 8); Jeff Plant: electric guitar (1-3); Lynn Seaton: acoustic bass (5, 6, 8); Jose Rossy: percussion; Marc Secara: vocals (1-3, 5); Jimi Tunnell: vocals (1-3). Track 4 – John Hansen: piano; Chris Symer: bass; Brad Dutz: tablas, percussion; Michael Waldrop: drums. Track 7 – Mario Cruz: tenor sax; Jimi Tunnell: guitar, vocal; Scott Kinsey: synth; Jeff Plant: bass; Michael Waldrop: drums; Jose Rossy: percussion. Track 9 – Travis Ranney: alto, soprano sax; Richard Cole: tenor, baritone sax; Dan Marcus: trombone; Brad Allison: trumpet; John Hansen: piano; Brian Monroney: guitar; Scott Steed: bass; Michael Waldrop: drums, percussion; Brad Dutz: percussion. Track 10 – Larry Panella: flute; John Hansen: piano; Scott Steed: bass; Michael Waldrop: drums; Brad Dutz: percussion. Track 11 – Travis Ranney: alto sax; Richard Cole: tenor sax; Stephan Friel: tenor, baritone sax; Keith Jourdan: trumpet; Scott Whitfield: trombone; Brian Monroney: guitar; Rick White: electric bass; Barry Aiken: keyboards; Michael Waldrop: drums, congas, added keys. Track 12 – Michael Waldrop: vibraphone; Wayne Peet: piano; Joel Hamilton: bass; Brad Dutz: percussion.