Louise Baranger’s economy–sized big band (basically four trumpets including her own, three saxophones, one trombone and rhythm) is at its best when unencumbered by guest artists, a string section or other commercially–oriented considerations. While such moments are too infrequent on Trumpeter’s Prayer, Baranger’s bandleading debut, when they do arrive (as on “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Chitlins,” “A Royal Firework,” for example) they are almost persuasive enough to redeem the others. Baranger is an excellent player with a pristine tone and admirable technique, as she shows on the title selection (one of several on which strings are used to amplify the core ensemble) and her many other appearances, all uncredited. The band, when given room to maneuver, is able–bodied and industrious. Saxophonists Don Shelton (“Mood Swings,” “Firework”) and Steve Wilkerson (“Ragtime Band”), trombonists Bob McChesney (“Hip Hep Hop”) and Alex Iles (“Ragtime Band”), flugel Warren Luening (Neal Hefti’s “Buttercup”) and pianist Linda Martinez (“Firework,” “Not Tonight, I Have a Headache”) spearhead a corps of topnotch soloists. Among the guests, Tom Kubis (who arranged seven of the 15 selections) unlimbers his keen–edged soprano while trombonist Carl Fontana trades rapid–fire salvos with Baranger on Steve Allen’s “Chitlins” (which Allen introduces), but Baranger and guest Arturo Sandoval are unable to ignite any sparks on Sy Oliver’s “Well, Git It!” (which suffers greatly in comparison to Tommy Dorsey’s original version). There are two nondescript vocals by Frank Sinatra Jr. (“I Only Want Some,” “The Way She Makes Me Feel”), another by Gisele Jackson (“I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”). “Headache” is Kubis’s contemporary look at Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood,” while “Firework” is Georg Friedrich Handel’s “Music for the Royal Fireworks” updated by Don Gillis. Baranger has three handsome showcases in a row for her trumpet, David Raksin’s “If You Remember Me,” Duke Ellington’s “Girl Meets Horn” and Tutti Camarata’s “Trumpeter’s Prayer,” leading to the explosive finale. A sometimes admirable session that would have been enhanced by more straight–ahead swinging and fewer detours.
Track listing: Well, Git It!; Buttercup; I Didn’t Know What Time It Was; All the Things You Are; I Only Want Some; Mood Swings; Alexander’s Ragtime Band; Hip Hep Hop; Chitlins; The Way She Makes Me Feel; Not Tonight, I Have a Headache; You Remember Me; Girl Meets Horn; A Trumpeter’s Prayer; A Royal Firework (61:04).