The second time around’s a charmer for FreeFlight, one of Canada’s preëminent Jazz ensembles, which follows its memorable ’97 debut, First Flight, with another savory slice of big–band Jazz that’s as colorful and thought–provoking as it is crisp and nourishing. With director Bob Shaw’s capable hand securely on the throttle, FreeFlight presses smoothly ahead on all cylinders. There’s simply no down time here — even the three vocals by Carol McCartney (who’s not included in the personnel listing) aren’t enough to impede the forward thrust; in fact, the band does some of its best work as her back–up group, thanks to marvelous charts by John MacLeod (“Comes Love,” “I Can Let Go Now”) and Vince Norman (“You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”). And for the benefit of those like myself who warm more readily to instrumental Jazz, it should be noted that McCartney’s vocals account for less than eleven minutes in a session whose playing time is more than seventy–three. That leaves ample occasion for the ensemble to lay bare its backbone, and that it does, opening with Mike Murley’s engaging “Conversation Piece” and continuing through Tom Harrell’s ethereal “Sail Away,” the standards “Lover Man” and “You Must Believe in Spring” and dazzling new works by MacLeod (“The Uncles,” “A Day on Sawyer’s Lake”) and bassist Dave Young (“Those Minor Blues”). The musicianship is exceptional, the ensemble passages impeccable, the soloists bold and expressive. MacLeod, tenor Dave Wiffen and drummer Lorne Nehring do the honors on “Conversation Piece,” flugel Jim Lewis and guitarist Joey Goldstein brighten “Sail Away,” and Nehring, lead trombonist Russ Little and alto saxophonist Mike Filice undergo “Those Minor Blues.” Filice is showcased on “Lover Man” while tenor Quinsin Natchoff and pianist Bernie Senensky shower sparks on “The Uncles” and “Sawyer’s Lake.” Young bolsters McCartney on “Comes Love,” baritone Chris Mitchell and trumpeter Ray Podhornick do likewise on “You’d Be So Nice.” If you’ve been casting about for a big band that soars above the commonplace, you need look no further. FreeFlight more than lives up to its name. One small word of advice: lose the singer.
Track listing: Conversation Piece; Sail Away; Those Minor Blues; Comes Love; The Uncles; Lover Man; You Must Believe in Spring; You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To; A Day on Sawyer’s Lake; I Can Let Go Now (73:07).
Bob Shaw, conductor, director; Mike Filice, soprano, alto sax, flute; Bob Brough, alto sax, flute, clarinet; Dave Wiffen, tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Quinsin Natchoff, tenor sax, flute; Chris Mitchell, baritone sax, flute, bass clarinet; Randy Brown, Steve McDade, Ray Podhornick, Lena Allemano, John MacLeod, Jim Lewis, trumpet, flugelhorn; Russ Little, Bob Somerville, Scott Suttle, Paul Ashwell, trombone; Colin Murray, bass trombone; Bernie Senensky, piano; Joey Goldstein, guitar; Dave Young, bass; Lorne Nehring, drums.