Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra – Mezzanine – Owl Studios 00137, 46:41 ****:
In the annals of jazz orchestras that featured the names of the two leaders such as The Kenny Clarke Francy Bolland Big Band, The Thad Jones Mel Lewis Orchestra, The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, one could be forgiven if the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra (BWJO) does not immediately come to mind. This lack of recognition should not in any way be attributed to a lack of musicianship. This is a top rated jazz orchestra.
The BWJO was founded in 1994 by Mark Buselli who plays trumpet and flugelhorn, and Brent Wallarab who plays trombone and does the arranging. This seventeen piece orchestra is based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Given the vagaries and economics of trying to keep a group this size together, the BWJO has struggled because they do not have a venue at which they can play with any regularity, and thus are confined to releasing one album a year with”Mezzanaine” being their latest.
The current project showcases the orchestra in two suite settings. The initial cuts progress with four original compositions of Brent Wallarab bound together as “Suite Storytelling” which was motivated by four writers. Starting the “The Glass Tree” using J.D. Salinger’s Glass family saga as its genesis, Rob Dixon gets to shine on tenor sax. From Mark Twain’s letters we hear “Tabellae Ex Terra”, on which Frank Glover’s clarinet provides the expressive voice. Wallarab’s trombone takes the lead on the Anton Chekhov dedication “Mezzanine”. Finally Mark Twain is the muse for ‘Sketch For Boz” that allows Luke Gillespie’s piano space to roam.
The second suite entitled “Suite Influence” takes three big band chestnuts and with Wallarab arrangements, provides him with the basis to re-imagine these compositions. The tunes in questions are Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade”, Edgar Sampson’s “Stompin’ At The Savoy” and Ray Noble’s “Cherokee”. Any resemblance to the original interpretations would be purely co-incidental. However the tunes do afford opportunities for several band members to shine. For example Glover on clarinet and Gillespie on piano work some fine interplay on”Senerade”, Busselli is featured on muted trumpet on “Stompin’” as well as on “Cherokee” along with pianist Gillespie.
This disc is a well imagined opportunity for Wallarab to display his arranging talents and he delivers with some stylish writing. The orchestra is a well-balanced cohesive group, although the writing gives little room for free blowing, and most tunes are taken at restrained tempo. Nevertheless, well worth looking for online or at your local record shop.
TrackList: The Glass Tree; Tabellae Ex Terra; Mezzanine; Sketch For Boz; Goodbye Little Dream, Goodbye; Moonlight Serenade; Stompin’At The Savoy; Cherokee; Little Sunflower.
— Pierre Giroux