The Aggregation, under the direction of Eddie Allen – Groove’s Mood – DBCD DBCD 002, 77:11 ****:
(Kevin Bryan – lead trumpet, flugelhorn; Cecil Bridgewater, Guido Gonzalez, John Bailey – trumpet, flugelhorn; Clifton Anderson, Sam Burtis, Isrea Butler – trombone; Jack Jeffers – bass trombone, tuba; David Glasser – alto sax, flute; Tia Fuller – soprano sax, flute; Patience Higgins – tenor sax, flute; Jay Brandford – tenor sax, alto flute; Howard Johnson – baritone sax; Bruce Barth – piano; Dwayne Burno – acoustic bass; Carl Allen – drums; Latanya Hall – vocals on tracks 4 & 9)
Eddie Allen is a jazz man who wears many hats: composer, trumpeter, arranger, author, and teacher. And now it his vocation as the director of the mightily grooving Aggregation for which he will get some well-deserved attention. And for excellent reasons: the jazzy big-band Aggregation’s debut album, Groove’s Mood, is a living, breathing, lively and feel-good outing from the opening title track to the Stevie Wonder cut that closes the program more than an hour later.Allen has joined 17 artists together to provide a toe-bobbing, head-tapping good time reminiscent of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra or Count Basie & His Orchestra, with excursions into blues and samba, spiritual and soul, and from upbeat swing to beautiful ballads.
Allen kicks off with two originals, the swinging title track and the Rio-related "Brasilia." During the seven-and-a-half minute "Groove’s Mood" Allen displays his whimsical charm and sincere respect for jazz traditionalism, leading the musicians through a bustling main theme that includes several infectious harmony passages. The horns take turns flying high and laying out animated solos while bassist Dwayne Burno and drummer Carl Allen establish a cheerful rhythmic design. The hip-swiveling "Brasilia" is equally exultant, with a brassy arrangement that complements a down-home rootsiness with a robust orchestrated realization that is sometimes suggestive of Cal Tjader or Eddie Palmieri.
Allen moves into a sophisticated and witty area on a Duke Ellington-esque rendition of the familiar gospel hymnal "Wade in the Water." Pianist Bruce Barth contributes a persuasive solo lead where he slips in some bluesy banter on the keyboard, while the horn section, in particular David Glasser on alto sax and Sam Burtis on trombone, is also given lots of room to showcase and strut.
The Aggregation proceeds from religious faith to romantic devotion with an elongated version of Stevie Wonder’s number-one hit and enduring fan favorite, "You Are the Sunshine of My Life." The pop standard starts out modestly as Latanya Hall soulfully embraces the vocal spotlight. Barth then shimmers with a dashing run of notes as the beat builds. The arrangement escalates as more and more of the jazz orchestra enters. When Clifton Anderson’s trombone takes the lead, the song rises another notch to nearly a bop tempo, before cascading slightly to allow Hall to reappear and extemporize on Wonder’s lyrics. Near the CD’s close, Hall again does Wonder proud on a silky smooth translation of another paean to love, "My Cherie Amour." Once more Barth demonstrates his two-handed facility, his harmonic performance accompanied by Jay Brandford’s flute and Allen’s trumpet. In the outro Hall shifts to a slight scat that attractively interacts with the piano and horns.
Allen places the Aggregation into different interpretative territory on Freddie Hubbard’s 1972 tune "Sky Dive," with some marvelous brass charts and plenty of space to jam for Allen’s trumpet, Patience Higgins’ tenor sax, and Barth’s piano. While some may prefer Don Sebesky’s score for Hubbard’s song, Allen certainly brings in a vigorous and diverse direction to the post-bop piece.
The most ambitious work on Groove’s Mood is Allen’s magnum opus, the four-part suite "The Black Coming." The multi-layered conception depicts African-American diaspora and strife, from being "Kidnapped" from homelands, to enforced slavery ("Servitude"), to the prospects of freedom and emancipation ("Jubilation"), and tragically to existence broken by prejudice, racism and adverse social and economic conditions ("Enslaved"). The composition has a brawny rhythmic progression, with the massed horns adding urgent and sturdy unison lines, and Anderson’s trombone and Cecil Bridgewater’s trumpet capturing the lead solo stretches.
As an album-closing bonus Allen and the Aggregation render an instrumental variant of "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" with horns securing the place of Hall’s voice: otherwise the tune retains the arrangement shown earlier in the set.
Groove’s Mood conveys Eddie Allen’s multiple influences and styles together in one likeable package. There are the sort of pop standards Allen has exhibited an expertise for in the past. There is the hard bop similar to what he has done with Art Blakey, the Afro-Cuban sounds he has participated in alongside Mongo Santamaria, and the arranging skills that have graced his other undertakings.
1. Groove’s Mood
3. Wade in the Water
4. You Are the Sunshine of My Life
6. The Soulful Mister Timmons
7. Sky Dive
8. The Black Coming
9. My Cherie Amour
10. You Are the Sunshine of My Life (Instrumental)
— Doug Simpson