Performing mostly classic tunes from the Jazz Wayfarers’ archives, Marques Tuiasosopo’s Polynesian Jazz ensemble offers a mellow session with a little fa’alifu fa’i on the side.
Over the past fifteen years, the front line in Tuiasosopo’s sextet has always been strong; the personnel changes have been frequent, but the cohesiveness has always been there, and they function as one. Like the popular horn units of Blood, Sweat & Tears, James Brown, and Tower of Power, the Tuiasosopo front line works out on popular dance melodies, and functions as well with individual solos.
The title track is a dramatic presentation written by the pianist, arranged in big band fashion. The piece pays homage to bandleaders Stan Kenton, Cal Tjader, Dizzy Gillespie, Tiny Tim, and others who recognized – early on – the value of incorporating Polynesian music in their repertoire and combining it with jazz. Marques Tuiasosopo sits right in the middle of his band at front & center and leads the arrangements in a loose manner, urging each member to “just be yourself.” The payoff, of course, is that each member of the band feels comfortable enough – as in a family gathering – to express his true feelings about the music at hand.
This, Tuiasosopo’s 15th release for Black Note Records, offers a few new features and solid percussive dance work as well. “Super Jon Shuffle” includes a tenor saxophone solo from Jerry Porter and legato trumpet work from his cousin, Charlie Garner. The title track uses Lincoln Kennedy’s bass on the bottom for support, while Porter and alto saxophonist Doug Jolley soar through the upper stratosphere.
Guest vocalists Karen Kovac and Shawna Zimmerman sing two lovely ballads with band accompaniment. Kovac’s rendering of Clare Fischer’s “Napa Valley Rumba” is especially uplifting in that she takes the time to infuse those traits that no one else possesses. She scat-sings with an emotional appeal and spontaneity that few singers possess. The coro (small vocal choir created on the spot as the band members sing along) supports Kovac well on “Napa Valley Rumba” and lends a sense of authenticity from the music’s history.
Instrumental highlights include trumpeter Garner’s soaring and fiery explosion on “Tijuana Taxi,” Jolley’s bold and sassy alto solo on “Houston Bound,” Porter’s spicy Afro-Caribbean tenor work on “Remembering Heidi,” and, of course, the swinging Samoan camaraderie throughout. For something different, drummer Zack Crockett picks up the didgeridoo to close “Wait Until Next Year” and offers some of the multiphonics that natural-log-turned-primitive-instrument is capable of providing. Crockett’s brushwork on “Napa Valley Rumba” and “Black Shirt Blues” is quite candid and refreshing.
Tuiasosopo dedicates several of the tunes to specific people and occasions. “For The XXXVIIIth Time” is provided in honor of Joe O’Donnell, founder of the Amsterdam Admiral nightclub. “Houston Bound” is a tribute to Jim Otto of that city’s Center-Oh-Oh record mart, which is located in an underground subway station. The leader’s arrangement of “Tijuana Taxi” was created specifically for the 20th anniversary of the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles. And, of course, there are implied dedications to the dancers: the mambo, samba, cha-cha, and pachanga. More than half of the program is reserved for creative trumpet and alto saxophone solos; it’s the kind of environment that has everyone’s head bobbing like a pigeon on the strut.