Budman-Levy Orchestra / Jens Wendelboe Big Band / DiMartino-Osland Jazz Orchestra
Budman / Levy Orchestra
From There to Here
If this splendid album, recorded two years ago (2010), is in any way emblematic of what lies ahead, the long-range outlook for big band jazz is indeed bright and auspicious. Saxophonist Alex Budman and trombonist Jeremy Levy have assembled a group of A-list musicians from the Los Angeles area who glide easily through Levy's elaborate compositions and arrangements with nary a lapse nor misstep, meanwhile swinging From There to Here in the finest big band tradition.
Levy, who moved to L.A. from Miami four years ago, wrote every number on the album save two, Bela Fleck / Jeff Coffin's "Zona Mona" and Michael Brecker's "Slings and Arrows," and arranged everything. Although he doesn't write or arrange, Budman is a strapping soloist who more than holds his own on soprano sax ("Miller Time"), bass clarinet ("Waiting") and tenor (half a dozen numbers). On "Waiting," Budman is accompanied by the ensemble and a string quartet. Levy wrote "Superbone Meets the Bud Man" as a feature for his trombone and Budman's tenor, but had the good sense to bring the peerless Andy Martin on board to play the role of "Superbone" to Alex's "Bud Man" (Martin solos again on "The Other One"). Even though Budman takes the solos, the reed section is an all-star group comprised (on various tracks) of altos Rick Keller, Phil Feather or Kevin Garren; tenors Glenn Morrissette, Glen Berger or Rob Hardt, and baritone Ken Fisher.
The sunny opener, "95 or 64," inspired by an auto excursion on I-95 and written in 6/4 time, embodies crisp solos by Budman and drummer Jamey Tate. "Miller Time," a graceful waltz written for Levy's composition teacher Ron Miller, precedes the buoyant "Zona Mona" (Budman, tenor; David Hughes, bass), the well-grooved "From There to Here" (showcasing Andy Langham's melodica), "It's Like That" (Andrew Synowiec, guitar) and "Idle Time," a sullen showpiece for Budman's tenor. "Brand New Year," which follows "The Other One" and precedes "Waiting," "Super Bone" and "Slings and Arrows," springs from a simple two-chord motif and includes purposeful solos by Langham and trumpeter Michael Stever. "Arrows," arranged when Levy learned of Brecker's passing, wraps the session in a cloak of unbridled intensity with kindred solos by Synowiecz and Budman.
Leading a big band these days is as close to a no-win dilemma as can be envisioned. Thank goodness there are headstrong enthusiasts like Alex Budman and Jeremy Levy who brush aside the odds and keep on making music. And not just any music, mind you, but the special kind that can be absorbed and appreciated on From There to Here, a remarkable album by any measure.
The Jens Wendelboe Big Band
Norwegian trombonist Jens Wendelboe is a superb composer / arranger with a New York City-area big band to match, and there's an abundance of Fresh Heat generated on the ensemble's latest recording, comprised of four original compositions by Wendelboe, one each by Joe Henderson ("Black Narcissus"), Steve Swallow ("Falling Grace"), Clifford Brown ("Joy Spring') and Rodgers and Hart's venerable "My Funny Valentine." The mystery is why any bandleader would choose to launch an album with vocalist Deb Lyons scatting on Brownie's classic "Joy Spring," but we must assume Wendelboe had some game plan in mind. Lyons sings as well as scats on the opener but Jon Hendricks' lyric is overwhelmed by a thunderous torrent of brass and reeds, making the words all but unintelligible (luckily, the lyric is reproduced on the CD tray). While the band quickly regains its balance behind snappy solos by guest trumpeter Vinnie Cutro and tenor saxophonist Joey Berkeley, the thought is that Wendelboe could have started with them to much greater effect.
Nothing much else is amiss save for Lyons' run-of-the-mill vocal on "Valentine," which follows "No Mercy," Wendelboe's clever riposte to Joe Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" (on which he solos smartly with trumpeter Steve Jankowski) and the ambrosial "Black Narcissus" (incisive solos by tenor Mark Feinberg and guest Rob Paparozzi on harmonica). Jankowski (muted) and soprano Tom Timko are out front on "Valentine." Wendelboe earned top honors in the Barga Jazz competition for his stylish arrangement of Swallow's lyrical "Falling Grace," whose earnest solos are by electric bassist Dave Anderson and guest tenor Ken Gioffre. Wendelboe's brusque trombone introduces the sauntering "What a Trip," on which he and trumpeter Bob Millikan's sunny ad libs are sandwiched around a tantalizing soli for 'bones and trumpets.