The Gennett Suite – Buselli/Wallarab Jazz Orchestra – Patois Records

by | Jun 12, 2023 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

A brilliant tribute to a founding studio of 1920s jazz…

The Gennett Suite – Buselli/Wallarab Jazz Orchestra – Patois Records #PRCD0029 – 2 CD (47:22 / 32:01) – *****

(Brent Wallarab – arranger, conductor; Greg Ward, Amanda Gardier, Tom Walsh, Todd Williams, Ned Boyd – saxophones/flutes; Clark Hunt, Jeff Conrad, Scott Belck, Mark Buselli, John Raymond, Jeff Parker – trumpets;

Tim Coffman, Andrew Danforth, Demondrae Thurman, Rich Dole – trombones; Luke Gillespie – piano; Jeremy Allen – bass; Sean Dobbins – drums)

Few fans of early 1920s jazz (arguably the founding period of modern jazz), would know that a barn like structure (used as a piano factory) in rural Richmond, Indiana, would be used to record some of the earliest jazz ever put on records. The Gennett label recorded for posterity Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, and Hoagy Carmichael.

As a loving homage to Gennett, composer and arranger, Brent Wallarab has reinterpreted classic compositions of this period for his esteemed big band, the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra. Also based out of Indiana, this orchestra has recorded eight albums over the last nearly 30 years. They often play at the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis.

This sumptuous 2 CD package, complete with a hardback book with historical essays on the Gennett label, and the iconic musicians who recorded there, is now available on Patois Records. An LP version will follow later.

What stands out immediately on first listen, is the sophistication and arrangements of the classic tunes of this period. I would compare the quality to early Duke Ellington, which is a huge compliment. Much like Duke, Brent writes to the strengths of his soloists. Baritone saxophonist, Ned Boyd, channels Ellington’s Harry Carney, while the band’s co-leader, trumpeter, Mark Buselli, has features comparable to Duke’s Cootie Williams.

The Gennett Suite, has four movements, each honoring one of jazz early masters. It opens with “Royal Blue,” which has the two part, “Tin Roof Blues,” and followed by “Chimes Blues”, and “Dippermouth Blues.” These arrangements cover some of the earliest recorded jazz, made famous by The New Orleans Rhythm Kings, and King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. King Oliver mentored and fostered the development of his disciple, Louis Armstrong, who early on was nicknamed, “Dippermouth.”

The second half of Disc One honors trumpeter, Bix Beiderbecke, who burned bright with his imaginative cooler trumpet tone for a short lived 28 years. Bix continues to be honored yearly for a jazz festival in his name. Wallarab takes several Bix tunes for the theme, “Blues Faux Bix.” They include classics, “Davenport Blues,” and “Wolverine Blues.” Mark Buselli does Bix proud during this theme. Alto saxist, Amanda Gardier, and pianist Luke Gillespie also get featured time.

Disc Two is devoted to Hoagy Carmichael on movement 3 (“Hoagland”), while movement 4 (“Mr. Jelly Roll”) has two tracks (“King Porter Stomp” and “Grandpa’s Spells”). Each has major highlights: Greg Ward’s incredible alto sax, on the incomparable American standard, “Star Dust,” on movement 3, as well as Wallarab’s version of Morton’s “King Porter Stomp. on movement 4. Four members of the orchestra get solos here.

Recorded in August, 2022, in Bloomington, Indiana, in pristine acoustics, this is early jazz music to treasure. Like a time capsule, opened a century later, with modern upgraded acoustics, Brent Wallarab and his all-star orchestra, honor a forgotten label, and an area of the country that needs recognition as a founding role in recording jazz, now noted around the world, as uniquely American.

—Jeff Krow

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The Gennett Suite – Buselli/Wallarab Jazz Orchestra

CD 1:
Movement 1: Royal Blues
Movement 2: Blues Faux Bix

CD 2:
Movement 3: Hoagland
Movement 4: Mr. Jelly Roll

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