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Ralph Pyl's Sydney All-Star Big Band: Pyldriver

Jack Bowers By

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"It's hard to write liner notes for an album like this," Australian superstar James Morrison says about Pyldriver, the second recording by trumpeter Ralph Pyl's superlative Sydney All-Star Big Band. It's hard to review it too. Where does one begin—with the picturesque and persuasive charts, the precise and powerful ensemble work, the sharp and sinewy rhythm section, the energetic and eloquent solos—or all of the above? Whatever the starting point, the conclusion is the same—that this is not only Australia's leading big band, but one that compares quite favorably with ensembles anywhere in the world, up to and including the "birthplace of jazz."

With one notable exception—Billy Strayhorn's shop-worn "Take the 'A' Train," wonderfully reconditioned by Bob Florence—the All-Stars play only original compositions, six of which were written and arranged by members of the band, and each of which is top-drawer. No less admirable are Canadian Terry Promane's swinging "This But's for You," Judy Bailey's "Child's Play" (cleverly based on a number of nursery rhymes), and Richard Percival's lusty bow to the great woodwind virtuoso, "Paquito."

Trombonist Dave Panichi composed "Pyldriver" and "Sensuale," saxophonist Graham Jesse "Shoalhaven Sunrise" and "Pitt Street," trumpeter and American expatriate Don Rader "Blues Down Under" and "Newtown Tango." Each of them does double duty, with Panichi soloing brilliantly on "This But's for You," Jesse on "Paquito" (alto) and "Tango" (soprano), Rader on "This But's for You" and "'A' Train." But we shouldn't single them out, as everyone else is similarly impressive, from trumpeters Pyl, Warwick Alder and Paul Panichi to tenors Mark Taylor and Craig Walters, clarinetist Adrian Cunningham, baritone Blaine Whittaker, pianist Bill Risby, bassist Brendan Clarke and drummer Gordon Rytmeister. And we mustn't overlook the guitarists. There are three, and each one—Ben Hauptmann, Rex Goh, Jim Pennell—is heard to good advantage, Hauptmann on "Pyldriver," Pennell on "'A' Train," Goh on "Paquito" and "Pitt Street."

Especially captivating are the saxophone quintet that introduces "Pitt Street" and Risby's deft use of "piano/accordion" to simulate the bandoneon on the evocative "Newtown Tango." Again, however, one must be careful not to over-praise a particular component (even though the temptation is almost irresistible, especially when citing the rhythm section), as everything on the album is exemplary. There is, in fact, nothing unflattering to be said about Pyldriver, which is one of the most electrifying big-band albums it has been my pleasure to hear and review in quite some time, and an unequivocal addition to the year's Top Ten listing.


Track Listing: Pyldriver; This But

Personnel: Ralph Pyl, leader, trumpet; Paul Panichi, Don Rader, Warwick Alder, trumpet, flugelhorn; Graham Jesse, Adrian Cunningham, Craig Walters, Mark Taylor, Blaine Whittaker, reeds; Dave Panichi, Anthony Kable, Ben Gurton, Colin Philpott, trombone; Bill Risby, piano, keyboards; Jim Pennell, Rex Goh, Ben Hauptmann, guitar; Brendan Clarke, bass; Gordon Rytmeister, drums; Tony Azzopardi, percussion. Additional musicians ?" John Pennings, trumpet; Steve Fitzmaurice, reeds.

Title: Pyldriver | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Newmarket Music


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