This is the ninth recording by Great Britain’s well–endowed Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra, and as is always the case, director Ian Darrington’s troops are lean, mean and ready to rumble, as one can readily hear from the first buoyant phrases of Mike Tomaro’s rollicking “Blues for Hire.” While it’s difficult to take issue with anything WYJO does, the way in which the ensemble was recorded is another matter altogether. The disc embodies a recessed and reverberant “concert hall” quality that does neither brass nor reeds any favors — the former sound immoderately shrill, the latter overly clipped and harsh. Soloists fare better, and the rhythm section comes off reasonably well, although drums are on the whole boxy and out of focus. Among the less well–recorded tracks, the weakest by far is “Caravan.” Once one overpasses the sonic hurdle, however, there is much to admire, and we should point out that there are selections on which sound quality is less problematic, most notably “Yesterdays,” “Basie’s Buddy,” “Summertime” and much of “88 Basie Street,” “Make Your Dreams Come True” and “The Kid from Red Bank.” Curiously, the closing “Reepicheep,” recorded in concert during the orchestra’s visit to the Faroe Islands, is burdened by the same flawed sound as many of the other numbers. Turning to the music itself, it is first–class in every respect from the superlative charts by Tomaro, Bill Holman, Tom Kubis, Frank Mantooth, Sammy Nestico, Neal Hefti, Mark Nightingale and others to the engaging solo features by tenors Anna Kirby (“Yesterdays”) and Richard Halliwell (“Basie’s Buddy,” “Make Your Dreams Come True”), trombonist Alistair White (“That Old Black Magic,” “Looking Back”), trumpeter Philip Nicholas (“When You’re Smiling”) and pianist David Tench (“88 Basie Street,” “The Kid from Red Bank”). Kirby and White are also heard on “Blues for Hire,” White and drummer Guy Walsh on “The ’Bone Zone,” Nicholas and Tench on “Caravan.” Nicholas, White, Tench, Halliwell, guitarist Stuart Davies, baritone saxophonist Nigel Hailwood and bass guitarist Peter Turner are the soloists on Dick Walter’s lusty burner, “Reepicheep.” A commendable enterprise that would be even more pleasing if the sound were as solid as the musicianship.
Track listing: Blues for Hire; When You’re Smiling; That Old Black Magic; Yesterdays; The ’Bone Zone; 88 Basie Street; Basie’s Buddy; Caravan; Summertime; Make Your Dreams Come True; Looking Back; The Kid from Red Bank; Reepicheep (71:31).
Collective personnel: Ian Darrington, music director; Craig Wild, Gavin Spowart, Philip Nicholas, Graham Justin, Julian Diaz, Andy Greenwood, Tanya Harrison, Oliver Olsen, trumpets; Alistair White, Robert Tinsley, Mark Ayres, Richard Windle, Bethany Robinson, Heather Dixon, trombones; David Little, bass trombone; Amanda Darrington, Sally Darrington, alto sax; Richard Halliwell, Malcolm Hardman, Anna Kirby, tenor sax; Sheila Halliwell, Nigel Hallwood, baritone sax; David Tench, piano; Stuart Davies, Robert Chamberlain, guitar; Peter Turner, bass; Guy Walsh, drums.
Contact: Ian Darrington, 139 Wigan Lane, Wigan, Lancashire, WN1 2NB, United Kingdom (phone/fax 01942 243974).