Basically Baker Vol. 2:
The Big Band Music of David Baker
Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra
Brent Wallarab – Conductor/Musical Director
Tom Walsh, Bill Sears, Rich Perry, Rob Dixon and Ned Boyd – Saxophones
Tony Kadleck, Scott Belck, Graham Breedlove, Jeff Conrad, Mark Buselli,
Pat Harbison and guest artist Randy Brecker – Trumpets
Tim Coffman, Freddie Mendoza, Brennan Johns and Rich Dole (bass) – Trombone
Dan Perantoni – Tuba
Celeste Holler-Seraphinoff – Horn
Luke Gillespie – Piano
Jeremy Allen – Bass
Steve Houghton – Drums
Dave Stryker – Guitar (guest artist)
Mitch Shiner – Vibes
Monika Herzig – Celeste
The jazz world lost a legendary colleague in David Baker last spring. Those who knew Baker know it’s an understatement to say he was a renaissance man of the finest order. It would take several volumes to document all of Baker’s abilities and projects. This fine recording documents Baker’s substantial composing and arranging abilities. On this album, the acclaimed Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra has assembled to perform some of Baker’s finest big band arrangements.
“Harlem Pipes” is a funky, brassy chart dedicated to the legendary Marian McPartland. Pat Harbison swings the doors off the place with his trumpet solo, and then Ned Boyd kills the next solo with his huge bari sax sound followed by a piano solo featuring the fascinating textures of Luke Gillespie.
“The Georgia Peach” is quirky and angular over the rough chord changes to “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and features dynamic solos by Mark Buselli, Freddie Mendoza and Rich Perry. It should be noted that the addition of Rich Perry to the mix is a joyful boon for the recording. Perry has become the “musician’s musician” on the tenor saxophone and is in high demand with his warm tone and unique linear improvisations.
“Walt’s Barbershop” begins with a fun salsa feel followed by joyful solos by Graham Breedlove and Rob Dixon, while “Soft Summer Rain” is one of Baker’s most lovely and ethereal ballad charts. Tom Walsh really sings on the soprano melody and Rich Perry takes one of his quintessential mellifluous solos, engaging in fascinating harmonic interplay with Luke Gillespie. The feel picks up a bit more in intensity with a swinging trombone solo by Tim Coffman.
The gentle chorale-like intro of “Black Thursday” is followed by some deep swing courtesy of the crack shot rhythm section. Bill Sears takes an alto saxophone solo dripping with the blues followed by a deeply soulful, muted trumpet solo from Buselli. The band follows with a funky, punctuated reading of “Shima 13,” featuring a rhythmically dizzying piano solo from Gillespie and a playful entry from Perry.
Baker’s arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop” must have been a particular labor of love for Baker since Gillespie personally suggested that he arrange the tune for a big-band format. Baker’s brilliant arrangement of the Gillespie chestnut features a whole slew of brilliant soloists including Tom Walsh on alto sax, Graham Breedlove on trumpet, Rob Dixon on tenor sax and Steve Houghton with a galvanizing drum solo.
“Honesty” is simply a rip, beginning with a Baroque-sounding brass introduction and quickly followed by some heavy doses of swing. Both trombonist Wayne Wallace and saxophonist Tom Walsh solo with gospel-tinged exuberance. Allen leads off “25th and Martingale” with a wonderful bass cadenza, which is followed by a terrific brassy arrangement of the minor melody. Harbison solos on the trumpet with his characteristic melodic inventiveness followed by a rollicking bari solo from Ned Boyd.
“Kirsten’s First Song” is dedicated to Baker’s grandchild. The composition features a beautiful and lyrical melody that is perfectly complemented by Mitch Shiner’s shimmering vibes solo. As an added treat, “Kirsten’s First Song” also features two very special guests: guitarist Dave Stryker and trumpeter Randy Brecker (one of Baker’s most esteemed alums). Both sparkle with their wonderful solos. As Wallarab notes, the Monika Herzig celeste solo at the end is like “a little kiss on his granddaughter’s forehead before he tucks her away for the night.”
“Terrible T” is a fun, angular romp dedicated to Baker’s longtime friend, Tillman Buggs. After a soulful and bluesy alto sax solo from Bill Sears, Scott Belck comes in with a razor-sharp trumpet solo. Luke Gillespie digs deep into the tune’s waltz feel and then closes on a perfectly mischievous note.
On top of Baker’s unique, large ensemble arrangements, it should be noted that the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra performs the charts with relentless precision and soul. I highly recommended Basically Baker Vol. 2 for fans of big band jazz.
Reviewed by Dan Healy