The album features seven Reeves original compositions in addition to his arrangement of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s great piece—and one of my favorite pieces ever--Aquas de Marco. To make those compositions and arrangements come alive, Reeves brings along some of the hardest working musicians in New York. Reeves himself is conductor and alto flugelhornist with Seneca Black, Nathan Eklund, Bill Mobley, and Andy Gravish on trumpets and flugelhorns; Steve Wilson and Vito Chiavuzzo on alto saxophones and flutes; Rob Middleton and Tim Armacost on tenor saxes and clarinets; Jay Brandford and Terry Goss on baritone saxes and bass clarinets; Tim Sessions, Matt McDonald and Matt Haviland on trombones with Max Siegel on bass trombone. The rhythm section is comprised of Jim Ridl on piano, Todd Coolman on bass and Andy Watson on drums. The big names with whom these artists have performed reads like a list of the best of the best.
The album opens with The Soulful Mr. Williams was written for the Bill Mobley Big Band during their residency at New York City’s Smoke Jazz club. The rhythm section starts it off with the horns joining soon with the silky sounds only a great big band can create after years of a musical relationship. Jay Brandford’s baritone sax sneaks around the corners. Keep your ears open.
Enter Scott Reeves with the alto flugelhorn solo. His tonality is rich and his phrasing is right on. Jim Ridl gets to solo on piano and he delivers like he always does. His choices are fascinating and he proves why he is on the album in the first place. His delicate delivery in the last minute of the piece is sweet.
It also has to be said that Andy Watson on drums catches your attention with his brilliant play. I hit replay just to hear him again and was rewarded in the experience.
3 ‘n 2 was written while Reeves was at the BMI Jazz Composer’s Workshop. It is a hard swinging piece with smoking solos from Tim Armacost on tenor sax and none-other-than Bill Mobley himself on trumpet. Coolman (bass) and Watson keep the groove hot while Armacost and Mobley keep you nailed to the chair.
The piece is so well-written and executed that this sounds like something Duke Ellington’s Orchestra had been playing for years. The bass and piano walk-off is just so fine.
Osaka June was written for the daughter of two of Reeves’ former students. Sara Serpa provides the vocals in the introduction with the band. Then follows a conversation between a Japanese mother and her daughter. The dialogue (in Japanese) was provided by Emi Miyajima Nobe and Yuzuki Nobe. It is adorable. The mother asks her little daughter “What do you want to do for fun?” “Umm, I don’t know,” answers the daughter. “You don’t know?” the mother asks again. The daughter then launches into a long description, filled with laughter of mother and daughter, as the band takes over.
The composition is as wonderful as the dialogue. Serpa continues her vocalizations amidst the rising and falling of the big band and Steve Wilson’s soprano sax is a lovely feature. Jim Ridl returns with a lighthearted and expressive solo that is a great moment. The piano is met and matched by the band before the return of Wilson’s soprano and Serpa’s vocals. This was an extraordinary piece.
Jobim’s Aquas de Marco (Waters of March) follows. Vito Chiavuzzo’s alto sax provides the introduction with a fine set of runs and rills. Ridl’s piano sets the well-known theme with Serpa’s vocals. The arrangement by Reeves is so well done and was a result of a commission from the Westchester Jazz Orchestra. (Thank you, Westchester!) The phrasing of the horns is cool and Ridl again grabs a well-deserved spotlight. I like the guy’s intuition.
The mid-point break opens the space for a gorgeous solo by trumpet master Nathan Eklund. The Reeves sections are fun and enjoyable. What a great celebration of Jobim.
L&T Suite is in three movements. The suite is dedicated to Reeves’ wife, Janet, and features elements from Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein and other Classicists. The first movement is Wants to Dance and is a sweet showcase for drummer Andy Watson and alto saxophonist Steve Wilson. Coolman’s dancing bass is a beauty.
The second movement is A Trombonist’s Tale. The lightly touched piano opens the movement. Coolman’s bass walks alongside Ridl’s piano until the horns come aboard. Matt McDonald’s stunning trombone is featured and becomes the narrator of the movement. From joy to melancholy, the tale speaks of emotions and memories that all serve to charm the listener. And it succeeds in that. The six-note motif on the piano is a captivating moment as the movement comes to a close.
The third and final movement is Hip Kitty. The is Jim Ridl’s moment.
The whole band gets in some great licks but Ridl knocks you out. Coolman and Watson definitely deserve a hearing, also. The sheets of sound near the end are blistering but the song belongs to Ridl.
The final track is Last Call. Max Siegel on bass trombone gets the first drink of the bar’s closing. It is sounds like the monologue of the guy who really has had one too many. Terry Goss’s baritone sax takes the next solo and he answers the bass trombone with the slurred aggression that proves the need for a “last call.” The band takes on a cheering and boisterous attitude with slurred speech of their own. Seneca Black intervenes with the plunger-muted trumpet and closes it out. Somebody turn out the lights and get these guys out of here.
Scott Reeves has crafted a masterpiece for a debut album. Portraits and Places brings together an assemblage of brilliant artists who are all deserving of their own spotlight but collectively focus on the music provided them by Reeves’ pen and direction. The music is exciting, even thrilling, and this is why we like big bands in the first place.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl