The Days of the Big Band are long gone, but large ensembles still roam the plains: JazzTimes recently detailed ongoing concert efforts by the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Jazz @ Lincoln Center, and any number of Mingus tribute bands; Maria Schneider uses ArtistShare to continue her expansion on Gil Evans; and earlier this year Dave Holland released a followup to his acclaimed big band redux, What Goes Around (ECM, 2004).
Enter Charles Tolliver, session player and sideman for Jackie McLean and Horace Silver, among others. In the late '60s and early '70s, Tolliver's big band recordings were considered some of the best of the period. Having returned to the studio on Andrew Hill's Time Lines (Blue Note, 2006), Tolliver shows us how it was done back in the day on With Love, his Blue Note debut as a leader.
It's not just a new generation of listeners that gets to be knocked out by the 64-year old's writing and arranging. A pride of young lions populate this amazing unit, most notably pianist Robert Glasper. Then you've got established players like tenor man Billy Harper, multi-instrumentalists Craig Handy and Howard Johnson, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Victor Lewis. A unit like this could make beautiful music on its own. But, as the saying goes, it helps when you cook with good ingredients.
With Love swings the way Derek Jeter swings at a fat pitch when he wants to send it screaming over the left field wall. From the opening bebop waltz, "Rejoicin', to the breakneck closer, "Hit The Spot, this band hits hard, creating great and powerful backgrounds for every soloist. Made up primarily of original material (either newly written or reworked from an earlier recording), With Love includes a truly schizophrenic "'Round Midnight that is lonely and plaintive one minute, Times Square-chaotic the next.
The album is not all flag-waving, by any means. The dancing title track could double as the overture to a Broadway musical. The woodwinds create a contemplative, almost Asian aesthetic for the opening of "Mournin' Variations, Tolliver's take on the spiritual "Singin' Wid a Sword in Ma Han'. Johnson's baritone sax launches "Right Now a frenzied send-up of a Tolliver original McLean recorded over forty years agowhile McBee's furtive bass leads us into "Suspicion, a piece originally written for a piano-less trio.
Tolliver's playing lacks the muscle of his bandmates', but every contribution suits a purpose, particularly his winsome solo on "Round Midnight. The power is in his pen, and the result is something to experience. I'm not a fan of big band music in general, but With Love had me locked in from the start. If this style is to your liking, this disc will knock you out of the park.
Charles Tolliver: trumpet; David Guy: lead trumpet; Chris Albert, Keyon Harrold, David
Weiss, James Zollar: trumpets; Joe Fiedler, Clark Gayton, Stafford Hunter, Jason Jackson:
trombones; Aaron Johnson: bass trombone, tuba; Todd Bashore: alto sax, clarinet; Jimmy
Cozier: alto sax; Craig Handy: alto & soprano saxes, clarinet, flute; Billy Harper: tenor sax;
Bill Saxton: tenor sax, clarinet; Howard Johnson: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Stanley
Cowell, Robert Glasper: piano; Cecil McBee: acoustic bass; Victor Lewis: drums; Ched
Tolliver: guitar (6).
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