Somewhere, Rob McConnell
must be smiling broadly. McConnell, once the peerless leader of Canada's flagship jazz ensemble, the Boss Brass, is no longer with us, sad to say, but the Brass lives on in the guise of trumpeter John MacLeod's superlative Rex Hotel Orchestra, which mirrors McConnell's band from its skin-tight section work and well-drawn charts right down to the lustrous French horn section, a striking signature of the Boss Brass.
As noted in a review of the orchestra's marvelous debut recording, Our First Set,
the resemblance to the Boss Brass doesn't end there. No less than nine members of the Rex Hotel Orchestra (including MacLeod) once lent their considerable talents to helping make the Boss Brass magisterial. As for the charts, most were deftly penned by MacLeod including "Return of the Great Danes," a perky, fleet-footed sequel to the earlier album's opener, "The Great Danes," once again dedicated to MacLeod's friends in Copenhagen's Great Danes Big Band. The exceptions are "Still Dreaming," based on the standard "You Stepped Out of a Dream" and arranged by guitarist Mark McCarron
, and the inimitable Rick Wilkins' inspired arrangement of the standard "Melancholy Baby." Wilkins wrote and co-arranged the brief closing theme, the suitably named "Closer," with comedian Johnny Wayne of Wayne & Shuster.
Another of the orchestra's strengths (there are no weaknesses) lies in its stable of sharp and resourceful soloists. Baritone saxophonist and Boss Brass wheelhorse Bob Leonard is showcased on the lovely Matt Dennis
/ Tom Adair ballad, "Everything Happens to Me," pianist David Braid
(with lead trumpet Jason Logue
) on the Gaelic tone poem "Tir Nan Og" (which translates as "land of the ever young"), guest clarinetist Bob DeAngelis on the jaunty, fast-paced "Indiana," which ends with a Dixie flourish. Lead trombonist Alastair Kay
and alto Andy Ballentyne share solo honors on "Return of the Great Danes," Braid and tenor Mike Murley
on Clare Fischer
's clever "O Pato Takes A Train" (blending Brazilian rhythms with Strayhorn), tenor Perry White
and trumpeter Brian O'Kane
on the hard-swinging "One and a Half Steps Back," White and guitarist Joey Goldstein
on "Melancholy Baby." The trombone section displays its remarkable agility on "Indiana," while brass and woodwinds lend an a cappella
glow to MacLeod's pensive "Sparkles." Drummer Ted Warren anchors the orchestra's exemplary rhythm section. Logue seals the "Closer" (after an upbeat band vocal) with a high-note salute to the Boss Brass' late great section leader, Arnie Chycoski, to whom the album is dedicated.
Those who've heard the Rex Hotel Orchestra's First Set
should surmise what to expect from the second: more world-class big-band jazz of the highest caliber. Those who haven't should seek it out and lend an ear, after which sitting in on the Second Set
is clearly a no-brainerespecially if the Boss Brass is numbered among their favorites.
Return of the Great Danes; Still Dreaming; Everything Happens to Me; Indiana; O Pato Takes a Train; Tir Nan Og; One and a Half Steps Back; Sparkles; Melancholy Baby; Closer.
John MacLeod: leader, cornet, flugelhorn; Jason Logue: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jon Challoner: trumpet, flugelhorn; Brian O’Kane: trumpet, flugelhorn; Mike Malone: trumpet, flugelhorn; John Johnson: alto sax, flute; Andy Ballantyne: alto sax, flute; Perry White: tenor sax,flute; Mike Murley: tenor sax, clarinet; Bob Leonard: baritone sax, bass clarinet; James MacDonald: French horn; Janet Anderson: French horn; Alastair Kay: trombone; Rob Somerville: trombone; Terry Promane: trombone; Colin Murray: bass trombone; Joey Goldstein: guitar; David Braid: piano; Jim Vivian: bass; Ted Warren: drums. Special guest – Bob DeAngelis: clarinet solo (4).