Tim Davies, who led a big band in his native Australia before relocating to Los Angeles in 2000, reprises that experience on parts of The Expensive Train Set, returning home to supervise his Melbourne ensemble on four selections, presiding over his Los Angeles-based band on four others, and somehow managing to blend the two groups together as one on the ambitious title song, which Davies calls "the centerpiece of the album," as well it should be.
Whereas Davies' previous album, Dialmentia, was focused in part on his recurring nightmares, Train Set undrapes a more amiable theme, the singular experience of becoming a father, as Davies recently did. In fact, the opening number, "Conceivilization," is arranged to depict in musical termshow shall we say this?the act of making love, with two soloists in each movement playing the part of the lovers. Be sure not to miss the exciting climax!
The Melbourne band makes its first appearance on "Sarahbande," a charming ballad dedicated of course to Davies' newborn daughter. Again, two soloist perform side-by-side, in this case tenor saxophonist Tony Hicks and trombonist Jordan Murray. Then it's back to L.A. for "Minor Incidents," a mid-tempo exercise in darkness and light based on a number of close calls that could have been harmful to toddler Sarah's health and well-being. The parallel soloists are trumpeter Brian Owen and guitarist Mark Cally. The expansive (and expensive!) "Train Set" is next up, and here is how it came about: Davies recorded the drums first (in L.A.), then the rhythm and Melbourne band, followed by the Los Angeles band. Not only is this the album's focal point, it is the last of four movements devoted to the over-all themes of birth and parenthood. Its subtitle is "An Epic Sarahnade for Double Big Band." The deftly-sewn garment is seamless, buttressing splendid solos by baritone Stuart Byrne, trombonist Jacques Voyemant and bassist Kenny Wild.
It's back to Melbourne and the Swing Era for Louis Prima's classic "Sing Sing Sing," on which clarinetist Hicks sits in for Benny Goodman and Davies does the same for Gene Krupa (in point of fact, Davies serves as the able timekeeper for both bands). In L.A. again, Davies and the band welcome guest singer Raya Yarbrough for "Let Sleeping Questions Lie," a pensive ballad that she also wrote. "Circadian Rhythms" (Melbourne) is a serpentine vehicle for the ensemble and Marty Hicks' expressive Hammond organ, "Jazz Vespas" a muscular blues named for Davies' Vespa motor bike. The dynamic, Latin-centered "Goon Juice" (L.A.) applauds a brew favored by many younger (and older) Aussies. Cogent solos on "Vespas" courtesy of flutist Tim Wilson, tenor Andrew O'Connell and bassist Kim May, on "Juice" by trumpeter Jon Papenbrook and alto Mike Nelson.
Stylish compositions and arrangements by Davies, plus two world-class bands for the price of one add up to an invigorating ride on an Expensive Train Set that is more than worth the price of a ticket.
Conceivilization; Sarahbande; Minor Incidents; The Expensive Train Set; Sing Sing Sing; Let Sleeping Questions Lie; Circadian Rhythms; Jazz Vespas; Goon Juice.
Tracks 1, 3, 4, 6, 9 (Los Angeles) – Jon Papenbrook: trumpet; Rich Hofmann: trumpet; Walt Simonsen: trumpet; Ken Bausano: trumpet; Brian Owen: trumpet; Alex Budman, Ann Patterson, Mike Nelson, Lee Secard, Ken Fisher: saxophones; Jacques Voyemant: trombone; Kerry Loeschen: trombone; Martha Catlin: trombone; Steve Hughes: trombone; Mark Cally: guitar; Alan Steinberger: keyboards; Ken Wild: bass; Tim Davies: drums. Tracks 2, 4, 5, 7, 8 (Melbourne) – Greg Spence: trumpet; Michael Fraser: trumpet; Eugene Ball: trumpet; Paul Williamson: trumpet; Thomas Jovanovic: trumpet; Greg Clarkson, Tim Wilson, Tony Hicks, Andrew O’Connell, Stuart Byrne: saxophones; Dave Palmer: trombone; Jordan Murray: trombone; Daryl McKenzie: trombone; Matt Amy: trombone; Jack Pantazis: guitar; Marty Hicks: keyboards; Kim May: bassTim Davies: drums. Additional musicians – Jim Honeyman: saxophone; Bram Glik: saxophone; Bobby Burns Jr.: trumpet; James Blackwell: trumpet; Javier Gonzalez: trumpet; Nicholas Daley: trombone; Jeremy Levy: trombone; Juliane Gralle: trombone.
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