(Summit Records DCD 747. Reviewed by Nigel Waddington)
What a varied and welcome release from NYC trombonist, composer and vocalist Pete McGuinness. This is a feast for any contemporary big band enthusiast, but especially for other writers who will genuinely Put on a Happy Face when they hear the variety of styles and techniques on display here (and not just while hearing the track of that title).
Solos are generously spread around the orchestra and expertly rendered, notably by the bandleader himself, and that other fine writer Mike Holober, who plays piano here. However, it is McGuiness’s vocal talent which is most diverting on several tracks, intimately intoning the songs with a restrained precision favourably comparable to Mel Torme in places.
Soloists and singer are supported by complex composed underscoring in places, which perfectly treads the difficult line of neither submerging the soloist nor being overlooked as mere background. I particularly enjoyed the composer’s own Old Roads where Chris Rogers (flugelhorn) and Mike Holober draw out bitter-sweet essences from the evocative chord sequence.
Gershwin’s Who Cares is indeed a care-buster, beautifully underpinned by Paul Meyer‘s Spanish guitar, and glowing flugelhorns. The stand-out piece for me is Can I Come In, where McGuiness’s writing exquisitely colours the sheepish return of the errant lover. There’s a lot of fun here too. Driving latin and the blur of fast fingers is a delight in Point of Departure, while the grooving romp of Jazz Samba invites us to a party where this listener overheard Lee Morgan meeting Steely Dan.
If you like your contemporary big band music direct, melodic, and less impressionistic than is the current vogue, this CD is warmly recommended.
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