New York-based trombonist Willie Applewhite birthed the idea of forming a new big band comprised of friends, and in 2016 The Uptown Jazz Tentet was established, co-led by trumpeter Brandon Lee and trombonist James Burton III. After playing to live audiences for several years, What's Next is the group's debut recording, and what an outing it is. Grounded in the traditions of the Billy Strayhorn, Gill Evans, Duke Ellington big bands and others, as large ensembles go, these ten players reveal a swing and swagger similar to today's typical 17-piece modern big band producing a muscular sound at every turn.
With arrangements and original compositions from the co-leaders and trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt, the band also provides creative and exciting new renditions of classic standards from the likes of Milt Jackson, Wayne Shorter, Kenny Barron and the legendary Duke Ellington. On tap here is the finest of traditional straight-ahead jazz encompassing a variety of styles from true bebop and gentle waltzes to swinging blues.
Opening the set is the Applewhite original "Uptown Bass Hit," a brief burner graced by solos from Applewhite, tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon and bassist Clovis Nichols, delivering a blistering start to what's to come. Lee's original and title track "What's New" is certainly one of the keepers here where the big band sound is in full display featuring pianist Adam Birnbaum.
The first cover tune to take flight is Jackson's bluesy "SKJ," where the rhythm section is as pronounced as the group's heavy section remains in support. The Lee original "Change" is one of the lighter pieces, containing a bit of spice from the group in a piece where the ensemble takes over. The band gets brassy and powerful on Applewhite's "Pursue" featuring saxophonist Andrew Gutauskas on an unforgettable big band number.
Baritone saxophonist Carl Maraghi stars on a wonderful treatment of one of Shorter's most familiar standards with a warm embrace of the classic "Infant Eyes," a sure feature of the album. Ellington's immortal classic "In A Sentimental Mood," comes alive after a soft mellow melody which develops into one mighty big band sound highlighting the horns at the center.
This remarkable session of big band contemporary music comes to an end on the fiery Barron finale "Voyage,' where the band supplies a fair share of heat climaxing the album in sizzling fashion. Well, What's Next can definitely be described as an attention-grabbing musical statement from ten world-class jazz musicians so, it begs the question: what's next from the Uptown Jazz Tentet? If this debut is any indication, one can only imagine the explosive musical moments yet to come.
Uptown Bass Hit; What's Next; SKJ; Change; Bramblin'; Pursue; Mance's Dance; Infant Eyes; In a Sentimental Mood; Voyage.