Guitarist Kenny Burrell, who isn't generally known for hanging out with big bands, now has one of his own: the Los Angeles-based Jazz Orchestra Unlimited, for which he serves as music director on its debut album, Unlimited 1, Live at Catalina's. While the ensemble is splendid, individually and collectively, there's no doubt that Burrell is the star attraction. Any misgiving about that is erased by the fact that the names of orchestra members aren't listed in the Catalina's booklet except as soloists. Luckily, most of them have at least one chance to do so, leaving less than a handful of uncounted participants.
In his opening remarks, Burrell says a part of the orchestra's mission is to become a repertory ensemble playing "the great jazz classics and standards," a purpose that is somewhat underplayed here, as only four of the ten numbers would qualify as such. Besides soloing on all but one selection, Burrell sings on two (Duke Pearson's "Jeannine," his own "Remembering"), guest Barbara Morrison on one (the bravura finale, "Things Ain't What They Used to Be"). Although his voice is by no means polished, Burrell manages to reach the proper notes; Morrison, meanwhile, lends a bluesy patina to the Ellington classic, on which Burrell and the orchestra swing with abandon.
Burrell's co-directors are composer / arranger / guitarist Charley Harrison and trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez, and among the album's highlights is Rodriguez' loping Latin-accented romp, "Mama Ya Ya," written to honor his great-great grandmother (on his mother's side). Rodriguez also composed the multi-faceted "Adelante!" as a showpiece for Burrell and the orchestra. Completing the amiable program are Burrell's lyrical "Be Yourself" (inspired, he writes, by Ellington) and power-packed "Fourth Dimensions" (arranged by Don Sickler), Richard Evans' evocative blues, "Soulero" (featuring versatile drummer Clayton Cameron) and a Billy Strayhorn medley ("Passion Flower," "Take the 'A' Train"), on the last of which the trumpet section reprises Ray Nance's original solo.
In sum, an auspicious debut by the Jazz Unlimited Orchestra, whose sections are laden with some of the area's most accomplished sidemen, and another solid outing for Burrell who is at home in any arena.
Spoken Introduction; Stolen Moments; Jeannine; Be Yourself; Spoken Introduction; Remembering; Spoken Introduction; Mama Ya Ya; Fourth Dimensions (a.k.a. Kenny’s Sound); Adelante; Spoken Introduction; Soulero; Spoken Introduction; Strayhorn Medley (Passion Flower / Take the “A” Train); Spoken Introduction; Things Ain’t What They Used to Be.
Kenny Burrell: artistic director, electric guitar, vocals, commentary; Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Unlimited: Charley Harrison, Dr. Bobby Rodriguez: co-directors; Bobby Rodriguez: trumpet; Mike Price: trumpet; Dave Richards: trumpet; Jon Papanbrook: trumpet; Tom Marino: trumpet; Andre Delano: alto sax; Justo Almario: tenor sax, flute; Scott Mayo: tenor sax; Charles Owens: baritone sax; Nick De Pinna: trombone; Ryan Porter: trombone; Billy Mitchell: piano; Trevor Ware: bass; Clayton Cameron: drums; Barbara Morrison: vocal (16). Other personnel unlisted.