The Wolf Awakens, Seattle-based saxophonist Jim Cutler's third album as leader of his Jazz Orchestra, consists entirely of original compositions including four of his own, half a dozen by trumpeter Daniel Barry and one ("Haze Gray") by Matso Limtiaco. Before appraising them, a word about the ensemble, and that word is exemplary. These are without a doubt some of the finest jazz musicians in that area of the country, and the ease with which they breathe life into these prismatic charts is consistently admirable.
Having said that, the music itself has its highs and lows, leaning ever so slightly toward the latter. That's not meant to imply that any of it is poorly written or performed, as that is not the case at all. Several of the themes, from this vantage point, do not lend themselves well to repeated listening. On the other hand, that may be ascribed to personal taste rather than to any shortcomings on the part of the composers / arrangers. As noted, everything is well-written and surely must have meshed with Cutler's game plan. Others may find these essays far more cogent and agreeable.
Happily, these lean moments are more than offset by a handful of bright and sagacious charts, starting with Cutler's buoyant "You Started It," which sounds like something the late Shorty Rogers might have writtenand there's no higher praise than that. The ardent soloists are Cutler himself and fellow alto Gordon Brown. Barry's rhythmic "Swallows Dance," reminiscent of Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas" (which Brown quotes in his dancing solo), is another highlight, as is Limtiaco's emphatic "Haze Gray," which showcases Paul Gillespie's expressive tenor sax. Besides Gordon, the clear-sighted soloists on "Swallows Dance" are pianist Gregg Robinson, trombonist Todd Crooks and drummer Ed Littlefield who anchors the band's attentive rhythm section (Robinson, bassist Philip Demaree, percussionist Jeff Busch).
Barry's "The Happy Cemetery," with its intimations of a yiddish dance, shows similar promise but alas, on this review copy the tune halts in mid-melody and refuses to play onward. Although The Wolf Awakens may be only randomly pleasing to one pair of ears, other listeners, as noted, may find the entire album far more congenial and rewarding.
You Started It; Lovely Silver Goddess; The Wolf Awakens; Angry Men; Sweet Marie; Peaseblossom; Swallows Dance; Prasek’s Lament; St. Hans, St. Peter & Odin; Haze Gray; The Happy Cemetery.
Jim Cutler: leader, composer, arranger, alto, soprano sax; Mike Mines: trumpet; Pete Kirkman: trumpet; Al Keith: trumpet; Daniel Barry: composer, arranger, trumpet; Stephen Pickard: trumpet (7, 9); Gordon Brown: alto sax; Ken Murphy: alto sax (11); Mike West: tenor sax, clarinet; Paul Gillespie: tenor sax; Mike Edwards: tenor sax (8), alto sax (10); Doug Reed: baritone sax; Ryan Shepherd: trombone; Steve Kick: trombone; Todd Crooks: trombone; Chad Kirby: bass trombone; Gregg Robinson: piano; Philip Demaree: bass; Ed Littlefield: drums; Susan Pascal: glockenspiel; Jeff Busch: percussion.