It's been forty years already since West Side Story premiered on Broadway in New York City; since then, jazz luminaries such as Stan Kenton, Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, and Dave Liebman have released recorded collections of Leonard Bernstein's exciting music from that score. Individual songs from the musical, such as "Somewhere," "Maria," and "Tonight," have become standards in everybody's book. For Dave Grusin's look at the familiar theater score, he's brought together a core rhythm section that includes John Patitucci on acoustic bass and Dave Weckl at the drum set, an orchestral string section, and a big band.
Featured soloists include Grusin on "The Jet Song," Gloria Estefan on "Tonight," Michael Brecker on "Something's Coming" and "Tonight," Jon Secada on "Somewhere," Lee Ritenour on "Cool," Jonathan Butler on "Maria," and both Bill Evans & Arturo Sandoval on "America." The string and big band arrangements were penned by Don Sebesky, Michael Abene, Tom Scott, and Grusin.
This is mainstream jazz. The ride cymbal, the walking bass, the big band arrangements, and the fiery solos leave a distinct trail; Sammy Figueroa's congas add an effect that recalls the story's romantic drama. Long a favorite of jazz fans, "The Jet Song" features Ronnie Cuber on baritone saxophone and flutist George Young on piccolo; together, and as soloists, the pair infuses a dramatic approach in consonance with the original theme's purpose. "Cool" features a loose, blues-based guitar solo from Ritenour, and fours from Patitucci, who converses well, using that deep acoustic bass timbre. One distinct highlight of the session is a piano-flute duo on "I Feel Pretty" by Grusin and Dave Valentin. Together, they weave a delicate baroque duo approach at both start and finish with a fired-up Latin rhythmic arrangement that places Valentin's flute atop the smaller ensemble's pulse. Bill Evans takes his soprano saxophone "outside" on "America;" the piece closes out the set appropriately with a vocal chorus, a Latin percussion interlude, Sandoval's fiery trumpet tirade, and the constant presence of Dave Grusin's piano trio backed by a big band.