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Sometimes, a name is all it takes to get attention. Ted Kooshian's Standard Orbit Quartet has such a name. But the name alone doesn't necessarily mean good quality. The band still has to play, and play they do on Underdog, and Other Stories ....
The ensemble is comprised of Kooshian on piano, Jeff Lederer on saxophones, Tom Hubbard on bass, and Scott Neumann and Warren Odze on drums. Kooshian, a native of San Jose, California, migrated to New York at the age of 26. That opened the door to gigs at Radio City Music Hall, Birdland, the Beacon Theater and in Broadway shows, as well as associations with Aretha Franklin, Chuck Berry, Marvin Hamlisch and Toni Braxton.
The "Underdog" theme begins with a New Orleans parade beat. Hints of Latin slip into the mix as the song heats up, with Lederer leading on tenor sax. The players seem to go in different directions and still maintain the group dynamic during the middle solos. Lederer switches to the soprano on a fast-paced cover of Steely Dan's "Aja," with an arrangement that is a vast departure from the original. Kooshian's middle solo and Lederer's spirited soprano solo make this into an entirely different tune.
"Time Was" is a straightforward presentation of a jazz standard. Here, Lederer takes the tenor to the depths of its range, and Neumann shows his dexterity with crisp hi-hat playing, along with equally crisp snare and tom rolls. A similar approach is used on Dave Grusin's "Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow," titled here as "Baretta." Lederer takes to his soprano again, and both Kooshian and Hubbard liven things up in the background. The slowed pace of "Wild West" gives the series theme a sermon-like quality. It's a fitting contrast to the turbo-charged "Aja" earlier in the set. Lederer, as any preacher would, wails during his solo, and so does Hubbard.
A track recognizable from old Warner Bros. cartoons and recent television commercials, but not very widely known, is Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse." Kooshian goes for a solo piano for the early take on this assembly line theme. The rest of the quartet chimes in as the piece takes on a rather abstract and, momentarily, bizarre sequence that segues into something more focused.
Underdog, and Other Stories ... has 13 songs and more than an hour's running time. The moods vary and, in some cases, the arrangements are several degrees apart from the original recordings. It's a solid collection from start to finish.
Track Listing: Underdog; Aja; Time Was; Sanford and Son; Popeye; Baretta; Wild Wild West; Purple Gazelle; God Give Me Strength; The Odd Couple; Powerhouse; Breakfast at Tiffany's; Little Lulu.
Personnel: Ted Kooshian: piano; Jeff Lederer: tenor saxophone (1, 3, 7, 9-13), soprano saxophone (2, 4-6, 8), slide whistle (4); Tom Hubbard: bass; Scott Neumann: drums (1, 3, 5, 8-10), Popeye bell (5); Warren Odze: drums (2, 4, 6, 7, 11-13), Home Depot bucket (13).