Monday, December 16, 2013

Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra with Everett Greene makes spirits bright at the Jazz Kitchen

Paraphrasing one of the evening's songs,  the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra was home at the Jazz Kitchen for Christmas — but fortunately not only in our dreams.

The real thing, soon to celebrate 20 years under the co-leadership of Brent Wallarab and Mark Buselli, played two sets Sunday evening at the Northside jazz club, which also
in 2014 will celebrate 20 years of taking care of business.

Everett Greene enhanced BWJO Christmas show.
The second set featured one new arrangement, Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride," with cameo solos by Randy Salman and Rob Dixon on tenor sax. Otherwise the program was drawn from the BWJO's 2006 Owl Studios CD, "Carol of the Bells."  Everything was arranged by the insightful, technically adept Wallarab, who emceed the program as well.

As on that recording, the featured soloist was the durable vocalist Everett Greene.  Some rawness has crept into his resonant bass voice with age, but he's still the stylish gentleman of old. The last line of his rendition of "The Christmas Song" (including a flavorful trombone solo by Tim Coffman) summed up Greene's continuing appeal— the inviting sincerity and warmth with which he sang "Merry Christmas to you."

Wallarab's arrangements speak in his own voice, but with fruitful allusions to his musical allegiances in good taste.  That was evident especially in the set of three selections from the music Vince Guaraldi wrote for the perennial TV special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

First came "O Christmas Tree," set in a medium-tempo groove with Luke Gillespie fixing the style from the keyboard. The "New Testament" Count Basie band provided the legacy, with open textures and well-husbanded power in reserve a la Neal Hefti. And in the next number ("Christmastime Is Here") Wallarab drew on his affection for the Claude Thornhill band in providing a pastel setting for the melody, complete with gently rocking Debussyan harmonies underneath. "Skating" concluded the Guaraldi tribute, featuring dueling solos by Salman's clarinet and Dixon's soprano sax, suggesting a pair of adroit skaters engaging in friendly competition. Wallarab typically places solos proportionately, where they are designed to lend the most luster to the arrangement.

Greene came back onstage to wrap his deep-piled voice around "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve," and in addition to another fine Salman clarinet solo, it was a pleasure to savor the transitory phrases drifting in the background in Wallarab's appropriation of the Gil Evans "Miles Ahead" manner.

"Carol of the Bells" is an arrangement that ascends to a fine frenzy at a couple of points, giving drummer Mitch Shiner opportunities to generate an exciting din that drove the band mightily. Also deserving his own niche in the excitement gallery was Mike Stricklin in "Silent Night." His alto-saxophone solo came on top of Gillespie's "sanctified" introduction, Greene's fervent vocal and a band buildup. Let's just say he out-Sanborned Sanborn and evoked blues-drenched alto-sax role models like Hank Crawford and Lou Donaldson with his testifying.

Wallarab has always shown a knack for good programming. It was at work Sunday night as he placed an unaccompanied solo outing for Gillespie between the high-powered "Carol of the Bells" and the vigorous Ellington arrangement of "Jingle Bells."  The pianist's choice was "Little Drummer Boy,'" piquantly harmonized — in one chorus bitonally — and marvelously paced.  In subduing his rangy rendition toward the end, he implicitly asked the question "Do You Hear What I Hear?" by quoting from that song.

We did, we did. And what we heard was the good news musically that the BWJO has been imparting for well nigh unto two decades.

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