One question that springs to mind when listening to The Brite Side
, a tantalizing new CD by the South Florida-based Horizons Jazz Orchestra, is: who is Lee Harris
? As it turns out, Harris was a composer, arranger and baritone saxophonist who teamed with trumpeter Dennis Noday
a few years back to co-found an ensemble they named Superband. Shortly afterward, Harris became ill and was unable to continue, so Noday and Superband's lead trombonist, Michael Balogh
, renamed the ensemble the Horizons Jazz Orchestra and, with support from Jeannette Pina, one of Superband's ardent admirers, produced its debut recording as a tribute to Harris who died about a month before its completion.
To help ensure its success, Balogh invited a trio of his talented friends to sit in, most notably the awesomely creative trumpeter Carl Saunders
, who solos on half of the album's ten tracks. Drummer Jonathan Joseph
sits in for George Mazzeo
on the stalwart opener, Harris' "Red Apple Sweet," and veteran saxophonist Billy Ross
reinforces the reed section on every number and solos on four. Harris also wrote "The Runner," "Fourth Dimension" and "The Brite Side," each of which is splendid, and arranged everything apart from Don Sebesky
's classic treatment of Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim's "Maria," scored originally as a showcase for Maynard Ferguson
's high-flying trumpet, on which Noday renders a superb likeness of the great MF.
After a couple of "Cherokee"-like riffs, the curtain-raising "Red Apple Sweet" morphs into a robust anthem that bears more than a passing resemblance to the spiritual "Wade in the Water." The tempo moderates for Balogh's eloquent trombone solo, then resumes its intensity behind Joseph's forceful timekeeping. Saunders (flugelhorn) delivers the first of his superlative solos on Harris' sunny arrangement of "Pure Imagination" (from the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
). Saunders dazzles again on a brace of Harris originals, "The Runner" and "Fourth Dimension," as well as on a spirited remake of the standard "After You've Gone (Finally)" and the irrepressible closer, a sunny bossa based on Billy Strayhorn
's "Take the 'A' Train." When Saunders isn't turning heads, Ross is baring his assertive voice on "The Brite Side," "The Sound" (on which he is featured) and (with Saunders) on "After You've Gone" and "'A' Train Bossa."
That's not to suggest that Saunders and Ross comprise the whole package, as the entire orchestra is top-class and there are engaging solos elsewhere by pianist Gary Mayone
(four numbers), Scott Klarman
(alto sax on "After You've Gone," soprano on "Summertime"), tenor Joe Mileti
("Maria"), baritone Randy Emerick
and guitarist Luke Williams
("Fourth Dimension"). Summing up, Saunders and Ross are nourishing appetizers in a savory smorgasbord of big-band jazz securely anchored around the sharp compositions and arrangements of Lee Harris. Four stars for the enterprise as a whole and another half-star for the dynamic duo, Saunders and Ross.
Red Apple Sweet; Pure Imagination; After You’ve Gone, Finally; The Runner; Fourth Dimension; The
Brite Side; The Sound; Summertime; Maria; ‘A’ Train Bossa.