(Jennifer Hall, baritone sax; Tom Kubis, soprano sax; Roger Neumann, baritone sax; Terry Harrington, clarinet/tenor sax; Carl Saunders, trumpet; Jack Sheldon, trumpet/vocals; Scott Whitfield, trombone; Dave Stone, bass; Santo Savino, drums)
Jennifer Hall has been a fixture for ten years now in the big band of legendary, Jack Sheldon. Hall has honed her big band chops with the best of West Coast big band talent including Tom Kubis and Roger Neumann. She has also subbed with other top southern California big bands such as the Phil Norman Tentet, where she met Carl Saunders, the brilliant trumpeter, who is woefully unknown outside of the West Coast. Jennifer has also gigged with the Bob Florence Big Band, where her path crossed with tenor player, Terry Harrington. All of these jazzmen have contributed to Hall’s first recording as a leader for the Sea Breeze label.
This CD is a tribute to Gerry Mulligan, and Jennifer has chosen all Mulligan-penned tunes with the exception of Bernie’s Tune. Hall’s bari playing is warm much like Mulligan. It is devoid of the lower register guttural tone of players such as Pepper Adams and the irritating honking of many other baritone sax players. It’s a great fit for a cooler West Coast session, yet the swing is still there in strong measure.
Four Brothers opens the CD and it is a nice slow-paced showcase for Hall and Neumann, as well as bassist, Dave Stone. Elevation follows and Carl Saunders takes early command with his trumpet prowess. Hall then steps in and shows that she truly belongs with the older session men. Josh Nelson, the young pianist has several tasty choruses before drummer Savino shares a “conversation” with Saunders and Hall.
Dragon Fly, a later Mulligan composition dating back to the early 90s, showcases Kubis on soprano and it is a beautiful ballad. Apple Core, a trad-sounding tune, has Terry Harrington blowing a sweet clarinet. Hall’s generous sharing of the spotlight continues with Scott Whitfield’s gorgeous trombone solo on Festive Minor. His opening three minutes are followed with Hall’s introspective choruses. The mastering on this CD was done by the legendary Doug Sax and is pristine – the bass solo on this track and others is spot on.
Jack Sheldon has the only vocal on this set on the Judy Holiday/ Gerry Mulligan track, Summer is Over. Although Sheldon’s voice has greatly weakened in his 70s, he still gives emotive passion to the lyrics and still holds his own with a strong trumpet solo here. Other highlights include Kubis’ soprano work on Rico Apollo; and the Mulligan classic, Line for Lyons, which brings Saunders again into the forefront. Walkin’ Shoes is pure West Coast cool ensemble playing. Cat Walk brings back the bari duo of Hall and Neumann again and is the longest track on the session.
Jennifer Hall has produced a welcome Geru tribute and has kindly shared the spotlight and solo space with many of the band members. Fans of both Mulligan and West Coast-themed big band jazz should sit up and take notice.
Tracklist: Five Brothers, Elevation, Dragonfly, Apple core, Festive Minor, Summer’s Over, Rico Apollo, Line for Lyons, Walkin’ Shoes, Rocker (Rock Salt), Cat Walk, Bernie’s Tune
– Jeff Krow