When one has no idea what to envision, what ensues can sometimes be a pleasant surprise - which is exactly the case with drummer Greg Williamson's new release, Swing Your Big Head. From the instrumentation and (some) song titles, I was half expecting to hear a Dixieland group. What I heard instead was a pretty competent mainstream sextet from the Seattle area whose program gives new meaning to the word "eclectic." There are eight compositions by Williamson, two by Greg Schroeder, others by Miles Davis, Billy Strayhorn, Thad Jones, Hank Mobley and Ed Heyman/Victor Young (the lone standard, "When I Fall in Love"). Williamson's notion is to paint "sound pictures" (a frenetic Harlem jam session in "Duke's Jungle," a strident street scene "Outside N'Orleans," an intriguing circus "Sideshow," the "fractured" fairy tale "Ode to Three Mice Without Tails"), and he succeeds admirably in doing so within a Jazz framework (the familiar "Three Blind Mice," played as a dirge, is especially effective with the horns scurrying blindly to and fro in the middle as they are chased by the butcher's drums - er, feet). The closer, "Willy Ride," a funky shuffle, embodies a hint of "Try to Remember" from the legendary off-Broadway production, The Fantasticks. While Williamson and his colleagues aren't "name" players, they are very good ones - you need only listen to the more familiar numbers ("Dig," "Lush Life," Three and One," "Out of Joe's Bag," "When I Fall in Love"), on which comparisons to others are perhaps more easily drawn, to confirm that. The playing is first-class, and Williamson's colorful charts are right on the money. Any doubts about pianist Fuller's ability are swiftly erased on "Willy's Ballad," which he plays unaccompanied. Fuller then sparkles as brightly on the up-tempo intro to "Baby Weener Dog Walk," whose unusual title masks a headlong Woody Herman-like groove on which everyone swings like crazy. The front-liners - Mazzio, Dickerson and Marcus - are consistently sharp and engaging, as is the rhythm section of Fuller, Holloway and Williamson. Although an audience was present for the recording session, they applaud only once, after "Out of Joe's Bag." Guess they couldn't help themselves. As for me, I was applauding (silently) after every number. A pleasant surprise? Yes indeed. It's gratifying to hear ensembles of this caliber bearing the modern Jazz torch in Seattle or anywhere else.
Dig; Rose Hips; Duke's Jungle; Outside N'Orleans; Sideshow; Lush Life; Jazz March; Ode to Three Mice Without Tails; Three and One; Ricky's Manhattan Mambo Calypso; Out of Joe's Bag; Willy's Ballad; Baby Weener Dog Walk; When I Fall in Love; Willy Ride (66:28).
Paul Mazzio, trumpet, flugelhorn; Bryan Dickerson, tenor, alto saxophones; Dan Marcus, trombone, double bell euphonium; Larry Fuller, piano; Larry Holloway, acoustic bass; Greg Williamson, drums/music.