Chris Walden Big Band – Full On – Origin

Chris Walden Big Band – Full On – Origin 82669, 54:20 ****:

(Jeff Driskill, Bob Sheppard, Rod Lockhart, Brandon Fields, Tom Peterson, Kim Richmond – saxs; Wayne Bergeron, Kye Palmer, Ron King, Kevin Richardson – trumpets; Bob McChesney, Alex Iles, Paul Young, Rich Bullock, Andy Martin – trombones; Mitch Holder, Andrew Synowiec – guitar; Alen Steinberger – piano & keyboards; Kenny Wild  – bass; Ray Brinker – drums; M.B. Gordy – percussion)

Although the era of the travelling big band is long over (even though nostalgia lovers still keep the “faux” Count Basie Band on the road for 180 dates a year), the sound and pulse of a good big band is still a thrill. Hence the delight that Chris Walden’s Big Band has released a new album called Full-On after a hiatus of some seven years.

While this is not an everyday working band, it is filled with top-notch studio musicians who know their way around complex arrangements. Walden has added to the mix a number of impressive vocalists, who bring their interpretation sensibilities to several tracks on which they are featured. But the band is the thing, and they start off in solid fashion with a Walden original “Bailout”. Offering some intricate interplay among the brass sections, the tune then segues into a long segment of piano from Alan Steinberger covering the keyboard with conviction. Eventually trombonist Bob McChesney joins the fray with his punchy style. A strong unison section from the band takes the tune out.

The impressive writing and arranging skills of Chris Walden again manifest themselves on “Gatsby” and “Arturo”. The former is a sly swinger with bassist Kenny Wild showing his strong deep tone and trombonist Alex Iles demonstrating his flowing feeling. On the latter number written for Arturo Sandoval, there is a beautifully written opening unison sequence, and then tenor saxophonist Brandon Fields comes in with a really impressive solo. Sandoval then takes centre stage with his Flugelhorn to flex his muscles, and gives a rich solo riding over the band with expressiveness.

On the vocal tracks they are all interesting interpretations of the material at hand, but there are several worth singling out. Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” featuring Melanie Taylor, gives the singer a platform to bring her up-beat energy to the number. The signature version of the Sammy Cahn/Jimmy van Heusen ballad “ Only The Lonely” is by Frank Sinatra for his album of the same name. Here Tierney Sutton does justice to the number with a more subtle and less pathos-tinged version. The session closes with a stellar version of Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like The Wind” with a vocal by Siedah Garrett who captures all the vitality and vigour of the tune.

This is a steamroller of a band with a refreshing and effortless relationship to the material.

TrackList: Bailout; I Can Cook Too; Lost In The Memory; Gatsby; Sir Duke; Bada Bamba; If I Only Knew; Only The Lonely; Arturo; Hey Good Looking; Out Of Town; Ride Like The Wind

—Pierre Giroux

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