Ballet of the Bouncing Beagles
The cover of Phil Kelly's big band CD, (7), is a charming portrait of beagle puppies, but the music is what won me over - a well-oiled but never formulaic band offering clever, swinging charts that often improvise energetically on familiar lines. The band has a beautiful sound, thanks to veteran Jerry Dodgion on lead alto, Dave Captein on bass, Pete Christlieb on tenor, and the rest. Kelly's charts look back to Benny Carter and Supersax as well as Grover Washington, and the CD ends with an old-fashioned tenor battle between Christlieb and Ranney that will have most jazz listeners shouting. But there's also a slow, sultry "Limehouse Blues", and a Latin chart about beans with side-effects: a deliciously varied and energetic big band CD.
Ballet of the Bouncing Beagles
Phil Kelly -- crusader for canines, patriarch of puns, scholar of scoring -- has once again assembled an all-star collection of sidemen and soloists who can sight-read and improvise from some of the most complex charts in all Jazzdom. The mere fact that the likes of Pete Christlieb, Bill Ramsay, Jerry Dodgion, Jay Thomas, Grant Geissman and Gary Hobbs can be persuaded to leave the chummy confines of their studio or teaching gigs and convene in a venue far, far away for the purpose of recording someone else's oddly-named creations over and over again is eloquent testimony to the fertile brain of Mr. Kelly. But then they've known for many years that Phil Kelly is unquestionably the top arranger in the Northwest, and possibly the rest of the USA.
Proof is in the devilish details, like the tight, precise, swinging concerted sounds of "Limehouse Blues" (the only non-original of the ten offered here) with its emphasis on well-controlled dynamic shadings, thoughtfully sculpted solos by altoist Dodgion and baritonist Ramsay, and propulsive gap-filling by drummer Hobbs. "Play Tonic, Budz," based on the changes to "Just Friends" (platonic, dig?) is typical Kelly word play. Also typical is the sardonic solo by Christlieb on "Ewe Doo on Bubba's Shoux," inspired by Kelly's passion for funk, or as liner annotator, Dallas musician Marius Nordal, calls it, "swamp music." Underscored by Hobbs' near-martial beat, Thomas' laid-back trumpet solo, the muted trombone work by Dan Marcus -- while trumpets behind him punctuate the air with what at Berklee we would write on scores, the onomatopoetic "doit" -- and Kelly's signature, split two-part harmonies by saxes and trumpets, the chart is an infectious swinger.
Other thoughts. Kelly demonstrates how effectively jazz could be utilized in film scores with "Note-o-Riot-ee," using post-bop concerted writing that features wide-open voicings, ambiguous harmonies, an occasionally bi-tonal solo by tenorist Jim Coile, and non-stop power boosts by drummer Hobbs, all combining to create a hypothetically menacing movie cue. In stark contrast, for "B. D. Bunz," a simple riff for trombones -- a well-worn figure that re-appears often -- sets up the moderate swinger that provides a smooth cushion for a number of great, un-credited solos. No problem crediting the percussion that helps the band float on the waves of (don't ask; I won't tell) "Estos Frijoles Causa Me Falta Pasar A Los Vientos:" John Bryant and Ron Snider. Great trumpet section blowing on that one. Guitarist Geissman contributes a delicate acoustic solo on the Latin chart, "Rainshadow." Thanks to "four tenor brothers," Christlieb, Travis Ranney, Pete Brewer and Randy Lee, for re-creating an old-fashioned cutting session, "Top Fuel Pete Vs The Trav-ski." And finally, Kelly fashions a heartfelt homage to Grover Washington, thanks largely to the soprano sax playing of Travis Ranney.
Having been fortunate enough to be a member of so many of the greatest jazz bands, let me begin this review by stating that I sure wish I’d been a member of this one. This band list is definitely a who’s who of the best musicians in Los Angeles, jazz or studio: jazz for the inventiveness of the solos and swing of the music, and studio for the technical ability of the musicians, or as Phil put it: “There wasn’t time for a rehearsal…we…put the ink up and started playing until we got enough.”
Phil’s been in the business for a long time and written a lot of music in many idioms, but he’s certainly not only a composer/arranger. He also worked as a drummer with many greats, including two of my favorite people, Red Garland and Denny Zeitlin. He secured his financial standing by writing national commercials for a living, making enough time to create meaningful music on the side. Although supposedly semi-retired and living in Bellingham, Washington, if this CD is any indication, I can’t quite see where the retirement angle comes in, when you hear such quality and creativity in music writing. I mean, whatever arrangement you listen to on this CD, it is premier
Listen to state of the art lead playing by Wayne Bergeron in Phil’s original, “Bluelonious,” the second tune, and a Bill Holman style contrapuntal section to take the tune out to a soft and mellow ending.
The pacing is marvelous on this CD. Number 3, “Pleading Dim Cap,” is worth the CD alone. It is a driving and energetically contrapuntal funky fusion tune. Listen for Michael Miller’s oh-so-masterfully executed bass trombone lines.
I’m only a little chagrined that my wife immediately got the title of Juan Beatov Stomp. Had I pronounced the title correctly I would have figured it out. But no, I thought it was some Spanish Russian guy. I mean, it really took seven-eighths of my brainpower to finally figure it out.
“It’s a Lazy Afternoon,” a LaTourche/Moross melodic creation, under Phil’s most expert eye, has been turned into an ethereal, muted sound, with Bill Cunliffe’s piano solo lifting the tune to an even higher level.
What better way to end this CD than with a fast screaming new arrangement of “Zip Code 2005,” so named to distinguish it from an earlier version.
Great solos, great section work, intriguing contrapuntal lines, a totally tasty harmonic palette, and the best musicians you’ll find in any corner of world, make this CD one to add to your collection of big band jazz.
A certain strain of modern big band jazz writing has emerged over the past quarter century which is incredibly detailed, complex and sometimes awe-inspiring. Yet it often lacks warmth and memorable melodies, and nearly creates a barrier between the music and the average jazz listener. Thankfully, composer/arranger Phil Kelly, while not simplifying his music at all, has chosen another route. His music, as evidenced by the 2006 recording "My Museum" and the 2003 CD "Convergence Zone" is warm, uplifting and swinging, and reaches out to embrace the listener. Kelly's music both invites and rewards repeated hearings.
For "My Museum" Kelly traveled from his home in Washington State to Los Angeles to have nine of his charts (including five Kelly originals) recorded by a first-rate big band assembled by lead trumpeter Wayne Bergeron. Hence the band title, "The SW Santa Ana Winds." Accompanying Kelly on the trip were baritonist Bill Ramsay and trumpeter Jay Thomas. The latter made a great impression on "Convergence Zone" and he shares trumpet solos on "My Museum" with the excellent Bob Summers.
The album opens with Kelly's swinging take on Duke Pearson's "Jeannine" which gives a strong indication of the quality of music throughout the CD. "Bluelonious" is a medium slow blue swinger, with some Basie-like saxophone section sounds, and a great shout chorus following Brian Scanlon's spirited tenor solo. "Pleading Dim Cap" is a spiky and challenging chart based on diminished chords and brilliantly played by the band. "Daydream" is a surprisingly jaunty chart that will surely wake you from any slumber (but honestly, there's not much chance of that with this CD). The title selection is a vocal performance by Greta Matassa accompanied by strings, woodwinds and muted brass. It is a fairly short but haunting and memorable track. On his earlier Origin CD "Convergence Zone" Kelly included two funk charts with strong jazz content. On "My Museum" he has one, "Jean Beatov Stomp", which features a modern guitar solo by Grant Geissman. This tune really does stomp and has the band roaring by the end over the strong rhythmic groove laid down by an augmented rhythm section. The chart on "Body and Soul" incorporates samba, swing and ballad sections, and features a masterful solo by Bill Ramsay. The mellow "Lazy Afternoon" features some intriguing woodwind voicings, a sweeping piano solo by Bill Cunliffe, and a solo by Geissman in a significantly different style than on "Stomp." The CD ends with the swinging "Zip Code 2005", a rewrite of the "Zip City" chart Kelly wrote for Bill Watrous in 1973. The rhythm section of Cunliffe, bassist Tom Warrington, and drummer Steve Houghton is in peak form on this track (and indeed, the section is excellent throughout the CD). The rhythm section on the title track consists of Darin Clendenin on piano and Clipper Anderson on bass.
The Santa Ana Winds is full of great ensemble players and the band jells very well on these Kelly charts. Besides the soloists already mentioned there are outstanding solo spots by Lanny Morgan on alto, Peter Christlieb on tenor, and especially trombonist Andy Martin who hits a home run in each of his solo appearances.
Phil Kelly has come to wider recognition in the jazz world fairly late in his career, but "My Museum" shows again that he is one of the most interesting and satisfying composer/arrangers in jazz today. His work never loses track of what the jazz listener likes to hear (at least this listener) - tight ensemble work, dynamic contrasts enhanced by a fine recording quality, space for many and varied solo voices, interesting but not far-out ensemble sounds, and a real dedication to a swinging in every rhythmic groove. Just as "Convergence Zone" was one of the top CD's of 2003, so "My Museum" will be one of the top CD's of 2006. This CD is highly and warmly recommended to all who love swinging, modern big band jazz.
Jack Bowers/ Allaboutjazz.com
To paraphrase the peerless Bard of Avon, a wind from any other clime would blow as hot--or as cool. Last year, composer/arranger Phil Kelly happily introduced big band enthusiasts to the turbulent NW Prevailing Winds (Seattle) on the stormy album Convergence Zone; this year, he has empowered the cyclonic SW Santa Ana Winds (Los Angeles) to raise the barometric pressure and spawn another tempestuous tour de force, My Museum.
Knowing there would be no time for rehearsals, Kelly had to put together an “instant band” that could cook on cue and master his elaborate charts on the first (or second) go-round. With help from lead trumpeter Wayne Bergeron, that’s exactly what he did. The Santa Ana Winds comprise an “A-list” of Los Angeles-area sidemen who could sight-read a phone book and make it interesting. Luckily for the listener, the “book” in this case consists of nine superlative arrangements by Kelly including five of his own compositions, a trio of seductive standards (“Daydream,” “Body and Soul,” “Lazy Afternoon”) and Duke Pearson’s Jazz paradigm, “Jeannine.”
This is for the most part swinging, straight-ahead big-band Jazz of the highest caliber, from “Jeannine” to the boisterous finale, Kelly’s flag-waving “Zip Code 2005.” There are two departures--the ethereal ballad “My Museum,” sweetly sung by Seattle’s Greta Matassa (with a saccharine string section), and the funky, Latinized “Juan Beatov Stomp,” which are placed back-to-back in the album’s midsection. After listening several times I was able to decipher Marissa Dodge-Bartlett’s lyrics to “Museum,” but still can’t understand them. You may have better luck than I. As for “Juan Beatov,” he kind of grows on you, thanks in part to splendid solos by pianist Bill Cunliffe and guitarist Grant Geissman.
Speaking of solos, any bandleader can relax and grab some shut-eye after assigning those duties to such unerring craftsmen as Cunliffe, Geissman, trumpeters Bob Summers and Jay Thomas, alto saxophonist Lanny Morgan, tenors Pete Christlieb and Brian Scanlon, baritone Bill Ramsay or trombonist Andy Martin. Summers, one of my favorite underrated trumpeters, fires the opening salvo on “Jeannine,” followed by Martin and Christlieb, and sparkles again with Scanlon and Martin on Kelly’s contrapuntal, Bill Holman-like “Pleading Dim Cap” and alongside Christlieb on an upbeat version of Ellington/Strayhorn’s “Daydream.”
Cunliffe strides securely into Kelly’s slow-walking tribute to the most uncommon Monk, “Bluelonious,” with other meaty solos by Morgan and Thomas (like Ramsay, an import from Kelly’s Seattle-based NW Prevailing Winds). Ramsay’s spellbinding showcase, Johnny Green/Ed Heyman’s “Body and Soul,” is another of the many highlights, while “Lazy Afternoon,” a curiously overlooked John LaTouche/Jerome Moross treasure from the Broadway musical The Golden Apple, enfolds a superb arrangement by Kelly around candid statements by Cunliffe and Geissman. The buoyant “Zip Code 2005,” which began life as “Zip City” and was recorded by Bill Watrous and the Manhattan Wildlife Refuge in 1973, wraps the package neatly with solos to match by Morgan, Martin and Thomas.
For a studio date that was, in Kelly’s words, “straight gonzo” (that is to say, largely spontaneous), My Museum contains one fascinating exhibit after another, and the SW Santa Ana Winds are as brisk and invigorating as a sheltered oasis in the midst of a burning desert.
Phil Kelly's new Origin CD, My Museum, is a nice follow-up to last year's Grammy nominated Convergence Zone. It has the same crisp arrangements, crystalline acoustics, and hard driving brass. Phil brings swinging arragements to standards such as Jeanine, Body & Soul, and Duke Ellington's Daydream. Kelly's own compositions, Bluelonious, Pleading Dim Cap, Juan Beatov Stomp, Zip Code 2005, and the haunting title track show that as a composer that Kelly is top notch.
Whereas on his previous CD Kelly used mostly Seattle-based sidemen, on this new issue he flew to Los Angeles for a whirlwind recording session on May 15th and 16th of this year in Alhambra at the MartinSound Studios. His choice of LA sidemen show both Kelly's good taste and his influence. Key players include trumpeters Wayne Bargeron, Pete DiSienna, and Bob Summers, who handles many of the trumpet solos. Not to keep his Northwest connection shut out, Seattle resident Jay Thomas solos on Bluelonius and Zip Code 2005.
Leading the four-trombone section is LA heavyweight, Andy Martin. It's the sax/woodwind contingent, however, in which the star power really shines. This dream section includes Lanny Morgan, Gary Foster, and Pete Christlieb, all whom have been band leaders themselves. Kelly's rhythm section includes Bill Cunliffe on piano, Grant Geissman on guitar, Tom Warrington on bass, and Steve Houghton on drums. They do their best not to be overwhelmed by the hard-charging brass and woodwinds.
A special treat on the title track is a full string section, who back up Seattle singing sensation Greta Matassa on vocals. Personal favorites on My Museum include Bluelonius, Kelly's tribute to Monk. It features Lanny Morgan, Bill Cunliffe, and Brian Scanlon's tenor solo. Body & Soul goes back and forth from samba to ballad and back to samba with bari sax soloist Bill Ramsay featured. Juan Beatov Stomp shows a modern touch in a Latin/funk groove that is a nice contrast to the other brass heavy arrangements. Here both Cunliffe and Geissman get their chance to solo while the brasss mostly lays back.
Kelly both arranged and produced My Museum. At a retail price of $15.98, it's a hour's time spent in the Kelly Museum of Big Band Swing. Where else can you take the museum home with you, ready for a return visit when your out of town guests show up and need proof of your good taste?
Three years ago, former Tonight Show Band arranger and BBI Elite subscriber Phil Kelly released his Grammy-nominated CD Convergence Zone, which featured his Seattle-based NW Prevailing Winds along with guest musicians from New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville. On My Museum, Kelly leads mostly the cream of LA musician, including four (trumpeter Jay Thomas, trombonist Andy Martin, tenor saxist and TSB alumnus Pete Christlieb, and baritonist Bill Ramsay) who also participated on Convergence Zone, and the results are stunningly stellar, from the opener, the Duke Pearson classic "Jeannine", to the closing update of Kelly's own "Zip City" (originally recorded by trombonist Bill Watrous and his Manhattan Wildlife Refuge band 32 years ago). The title track, a ballad collaboration between Kelly and lyricist Marissa Dodge-Bartlett, presents vocalist Greta Matassa from Seattle, WA in a luch Johnny Mandel-inspired chart complete with string section (recorded in Dallas, TX). Bob Summers' flugelhorn takes center stage on the Ellington/Strayhorn chestnut "Daydream" along with Christlieb's tenor, and John Green's "Body and Soul" undergoes total renovation as a feature for Ramsay's fluid yet muscular baritone (the chart also pays tribute to Marty Paich's version for the 1970's Stan Kenton band). "Pleading Dim Cap" and "Juan Beatov Stomp" are both excursions into funk: the former an acoustic romp with tenorist Brian Scanlon, trombone wizard Martin, and Summers (here on trumpet); and the latter recalling Don Ellis in an electric 7/4 featuring ex-Buddy Rich keyboardist Bill Cunliffe and guitarist Grant Geissman (a Chuck Mangione alumnus). "Lazy Afternoon", from the long-forgotten 1950's Jerome Moross musical The Golden Apple, restores Cunliffe and Geissman to a more acoustic environment in Kelly's unique 6/4 treatment. Other key personnel include lead trumpeter Wayne Bergeron (a Maynard Ferguson alum, bandleader in his own right, and contractor for this CD), lead altoist Lanny Morgan (also an MF grad and soloist on "Bluelonius" and "Zip Code 2005"), bassist Tom Warrington (ex-Rich), drummer Steve Houghton, and percussionist Brian Kilgore. My Museum is likely to propel its creator into the Grammy spotlight once more.
The most impressive thing for me here is Phil Kelly's vision. He's like a painter that is a master at understanding colors... before they reach the canvas. Like Goodwin he understands the musicians capabilities before he passes out the music. Swinging or adding heat to the straight eighth he smartly avoids predictable voice cliches and rhythmic has-beens. One of the marks of a great writer is for them to make thoughtful and visionary presentations of varied formulas. No doubt top ten material.
Composer/arranger Phil Kelly’s new big band CD is truly a convergence zone between "tight" and "loose." Combining a stellar array of first-call studio players and smokin’ jazz soloists from the Pacific Northwest with a few of his old friends from the Los Angeles, New York and Nashville scenes, Kelly has come up with a recording that combines consummate craftsmanship with flat-out fun in a most engaging fashion.
Kelly retired to the northern reaches of the Puget Sound area around five years ago after a 30+-year career in film, TV and advertising. The last time he wrote charts for a large jazz ensemble was in the mid-1970s, on two superb but now sadly out of print albums with trombonist Bill Watrous, Manhattan Wildlife Refuge from 1974 and Tiger of San Pedro from 1975. 3,500 "clients" later, plus numerous arrangements for Doc Severinsen – both with the Tonight Show orchestra and for symphonic appearances – the Dallas, Houston, North Carolina and Vermont Symphony pops series, and an extended association with the Fort Worth Symphony beginning in 1975, he has returned to his first love with this project. Students at the Bud Shank Port Townsend Jazz Workshop have profited from his expertise as a clinician and big band coach in 2002 and 2003.
In a recent telephone conversation, Kelly cited Bill Holman and Willie Maiden among his favorite arrangers, and mentioned that he was looking for the fire and spontaneity of Terry Gibbs’ aptly named Explosion band on this CD. The coiled-spring swing of "O.T.B.S." (Old Time Blues S—t) exemplifies the canny good humor and supercharged drive he’s talking about. Done in one take, with everyone sight-reading, this thing rocks. "They just turned on the light and we went," as he put it. The string of solos by Bill Ramsay, Gary Shutes, Jay Thomas, Travis Ranney, Andy Martin and Chuck Deardorf stokes the furnace with no deadwood. There are four other energized and (somewhat) similar romps, all wittily titled ("Damp Brown Places," "Subztatoot Shuffle," "Sweet Georgia Upside Down," and "Yada Yada.") His arrangement of the Schwartz-Dietz standard "You and the Night and the Music" motors along at a merry clip, with fine, concise solos from saxophonist Jim Coile, trumpeter Vern Seifert, pianist John Hansen and – especially – trombonist Andy Martin.
The session’s two ballads feature string programming by Matt Bennett. Synthesized strings tend to grate on my nerves in most cases, but the way Kelly has integrated them so seamlessly in his arrangements sways my prejudice here. "Bella Luce (for Conte Candoli)" would be a Grammy winner for Best Jazz Solo Performance in a just world. Jay Thomas "channels Conte" – as Kelly put it – in a trumpet solo and dramatic cadenza that pays tribute to the recently departed brass master in an emotionally immediate fashion reminiscent of Candoli’s collaborations with another heart-on-sleeve improviser, trombonist Frank Rosolino. "Kathy’s Waltz," written for Kelly’s late wife and soulmate, is a feature for alto saxophonist Bill Ramsay. It’s an incredibly beautiful melody, and Ramsay reaches deep inside, plumbing the depths and heights of human experience, the joy and sorrow, the intertwined Yin-Yang – the saudade essence as Harvey Siders’ notes point out – in a memorable and nakedly direct interpretation. Ramsay was a major impetus in getting this recording produced and released. Thank you.
Then there are the two "funk" tunes, with an in-the-pocket rhythm section from Nashville led by North Texas State alum Pat Coil on piano, that conjure up the kind of James Brown crossed with Basie groove of Don Menza’s stint with the Buddy Rich band. Purists may scoff, but "Cuzn Bubba Luvz Ewe," and "The Refrigerator" will chill you out.
Oh, did I mention that Pete Christlieb, a monster of muscular tenor saxophone prestidigitation, solos on six of the ten tracks?
If you watch any television at all it's a good bet you've heard Phil Kelly's sound. Kelly has worked for forty years as a composer/arranger in film and TV, including over 700 national TV commercials. For Convergence Zone Kelly has assembled some of the finest studio and jazz players in the Northwest for a swinging, sassy set of big band jazz.
The opener, 'Damp Brown Places' a sendup of 'Camp Town Races' sets an immediate tone for the recording: clean lines and brightly polished, meticuolously-crafted arrangements; propulsive swing; and a sound that brings Doc Severinson's Tonight Show Band to mind. No surprise there, since Kelly has written for Doc's band, in addition to writing and arranging stints for trombonist Bill Watrous's NYC Big Band.
'Cuzn Bubba Luvz Ewe' and 'The Refrigerator' bring some funk into the mix, while 'Sweet Georgia Upside Down' swings with a sweet Ellingtonian brass/reed mix. The arrangement on 'Bella Luce' is reminscent of Robert Farnon's work on the late trombone master J.J. Johnson's great but underappreciated Tangence CD (Gigantes, 1995), with some subtle but beautifully-done string programming.
Too many great solos to mention two or three on every song; and listen to the way the limber rhythm guys adjust to the shift from ensemble to solo accompaniment throughout.
A highly polished sound, well-crafted arrangements: a bright, swinging set of big band jazz.
From longtime television, film, and commercial arranger Phil Kelly comes Convergence Zone, his first album as a leader. Since a relocation to the Pacific Northwest in 1998, Kelly has worked with a number of regional jazz figures, culminating in the grouping of the NW Prevailing Winds big band playing here. The album is full of works of big-band majesty, able to emulate the high points of Woody Herman and Count Basie with ease as well as covering new ground in the traditions of the '60s cinematic orchestras.
Kelly's compositions and arrangements are the primary stars of the album, with the ability to "simultaneously sound loose and tight," as one critic paradoxically put it. The album opens with a relatively straightforward adaptation/parody of "Camptown Races," then moves somewhat awkwardly into a slightly more funky soul-influenced number. More seamlessly moving forward, one encounters a more relaxed form of swing and an adaptation of "Sweet Georgia Brown" originally written for Doc Severinsen's Tonight Show Band. Trumpeter Jay Thomas makes a stirring tribute to his mentor, Conte Candoli, in a tribute by Joe La Barbera, and the old standard "You and the Night and the Music" provides a nice straightforward groove session with a subtle touch of bop sewn in. The bop continues to a degree in "Yada Yada," with notable solos again by Thomas as well as Pete Christlieb. A Basie tribute of sorts, "O.T.B.S" lays out a long relaxed session with a basic 12-bar blues structure, giving everyone in the band his own time to shine in a solo, and "Kathy's Waltz" is a more orchestral work (with a missing third beat in the waltz) in memory of Kelly's late wife. The album closes on a horn-based gospel groove of sorts with "The Refrigerator." Given the dearth of good big-band arrangers out there in recent years, Kelly is a bright spot in a slightly rarefied field. For the musicality of his arrangements alone, the album is worth hearing. For the additional abilities of the bandmembers, the album becomes one worth buying.
Composer and arranger Phil Kelly has written volumes of stuff during the past 40 years for recording artists, bands, symphony pops, film, television, and commercials and now at age 65, he has finally gotten around to write some music for himself. The fruit of his labors are on his debut CD for Origin Records, Convergence Zone: Phil Kelly And The NW Prevailing Winds.
Convergence Zone is an apt title for this project. A "convergence zone" is a phenomenon that occurs when the Pacific winds hit the Olympic Mountains in Washington State, divide north and south, and when they meet again, stir up a whole mess of rainstorms. That's exactly what the music on this album does. It stirs up a whole mess of utterly explosive, electrifying, and exciting contemporary big band jazz sounds. Add to it a power-packed team of dynamic jazz musicians in the entire Northwest on this project and the music takes on a life of it's own.
Kelly composed and arranged the bulk of music on this ten-track album (except Bella Luce by Joe LaBarbera, a haunting ballad in tribute to the late trumpeter Cone Candoli [with compelling solo work by featured trumpeter Jay Thomas], and the standard, You And The Night And The Music) which is saturated with sardonic humor (check out the selections' titles), tight-sound ensemble work, and exhilarating soloists. The entire album swings with a zing!
Speaking of exhilarating soloists... Los Angeles-based and former Tonight Show tenor sax man Pete Christlieb is featured as a special guest on six of the album's tracks. His intense solos help to beef up such straight-ahead fiery pieces as Damp Brown Places, Cuzn Bubba Luvz Ewe, Subztatoot Shuffle, Sweet Georgia Upside Down, Yada Yada, and The Refrigerator, with its gospel groove.
Alto saxist Bill Ramsey also shines tenderly in the pensive Kathy's Waltz, Kelly's tribute to his late wife, Kathy.
Now semi-retired and residing in Bellingham, WA, Kelly still writes jazz and pop orchestra arrangements for publication and on commission, and is beginning an auxiliary career in the educational field as a clinician in film scoring and music for the media at various colleges around the USA, as well as a big band coach at the Bud Shank Centrum Jazz camp in Port Townsend, WA, for the past two years.
Here's hoping Kelly writes more thrilling charts to record for more of his own albums. This is must hear (and have) CD! *****
by Jae Sinnett, Jazz Programmers List
"Convergence Zone" adds a much needed upgrade to what the jazz orchestras are dealing with today in terms of predictability. The arrangements are challenging, fun and work only because of the quality of these musicians playing them. The sections are cohesive and beautifully in tune. The dynamic range of this band is refreshing. Jay Thomas is one of many standouts. Considering the overhead involved with making something like this work, give Origin and the musicians credit for what was I'm sure - a compromising, labor intensive and draining venture.
A 'convergence zone' is where winds from all over gather together to blow up a storm, which is an entirely appropriate metaphor for this tempestuous new album by composer/arranger Phil Kelly & the NW Prevailing Winds‹except that Kelly not only has those formidable winds at his command but muscular brass and rhythm as well.
The tornadic uproar begins with Kelly¹s tongue-in-cheek 'Damp Brown Places' (apologies to Stephen Foster) and doesn¹t subside until trumpeter Jay Thomas, tenor Pete Christlieb, pianist Pat Coil and the band have finished raiding 'The Refrigerator.' In all, eight of Kelly's impressive compositions (including the best known, 'Sweet Georgia Upside Down') are performed by his stalwart ensemble, with Joe LaBarbera's loving tribute to the late Conte Candoli, 'Bella Luce,' and the standard 'You and the Night and the Music' sandwiched midway between them.
One of the themes, 'Yada Yada,' sounds as though it could have been checked out almost intact from the Sammy Nestico/Count Basie library. The others are pure Kelly, including two ('Cuzn Bubba Luvz Ewe,' 'Refrigerator') that use a rhythm section 'imported' from Nashville via software files with horn parts cleverly positioned around it and Christlieb and Bill Ramsay overdubbing the reed section. The results are so seamless it's hard to imagine that that everyone wasn't seated together in the same recording studio.
There's one brief respite along the way, the gracious 'Kathy¹s Waltz,' featuring Ramsay's soulful alto with programmed strings; the rest is breathtaking big-band fireworks punctuated by warm-blooded solos, chiefly by Christlieb and Thomas, who share the spotlight not only on 'Cuzn Bubba,' 'Refrigerator' and 'Yada Yada,' but with drummer Gary Hobbs on 'Damp Brown Places' and trombonist Dan Marcus on 'Sweet Georgia.' Thomas also pours heart and soul into his soliloquy on 'Bella Luce.'
Other prominent soloists include baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan (with Christlieb and Marcus) on 'Subztatoot Shuffle' and trombonist Andy Martin with tenor Jim Coile, trumpeter Vern Seilert and pianist John Hansen on 'You and the Night,' Ramsay, Thomas, pianist Butch Nordal, trombonist Gary Shutes, alto Travis Ranney and bassist Chuck Deardorf on Kelly's 'O.T.B.S.' (which stands for 'old time blues... expletive'). Speaking of Hobbs and Deardorf, they anchor a shrewd and sinewy rhythm section that provides an unerring compass and keeps everyone marching in close formation. Big-band albums this rewarding don't come along very often.
( from John Killoch www.mainly bigbands.com ..uk )
I seem to have tapped in to a rich vein of big band music recently.. One of the most spectacular recordings is the one subject of this post. I have been seeing Phil Kelly's name associated with great arrangements for some years. Not the least of these is the impudent reworking of Sweet Georgia Brown, a dream of a swing arrangement re titled SWEET GEORGIA UPSIDE DOWN. Reading the liner notes there is a distinct impression that Mr. Kelly has an irreverent side. The opening track on this exceptional CD is a sendup of CAMPTOWN RACES -DAMP BROWN PLACES.If this is commercially available I would buy it, the title alone is worth the costs. The audience will be with you all the way. Of course you have to back up such irreverence with a damn fine arrangement. Great workout for the ensemble, tenor Pete Christleib, drummer Gary Hobbs and the trumpet of Jay Thomas .
It is always useful to associate an album or style with another band you may be aware of. I would guess that anyone who has enjoyed John Von Ohlen's excellent Cincinnati based Blue Wisp Big Band , will eat this up.
Personnel and track listings are below : In a nutshell this is a hard swinging big band bursting with fine soloists from the Seattle area and guests. The Guests: Pete Christleib, Andy Martin, Bill Ramsay. The drummer is Gary Hobbs whose contribution is nothing less than spectacular, no band could fail to swing with him in the chair.
This could be your jazz big band CD of 2003/4 . I have copies in the UK*
From WDCB in Chicago ..
Just wanted to let you know that your new album is great. As the music director at WDCB in Chicago, I just put it into current rotation. I really dug Damp Brown Places and OTBS.
Take care and good luck with a great album!
Subject: [JPL] TOP PICKS 2003
Hi everyone. It's that time again. Here are my top picks for 2003.
5. Phil Kelly & The NW Prevailing Winds – "Convergence Zone" – Origin Records – One of the things I look for in an arranger is if they have the ability to enhance the story of the composition. Arranging is like cooking in that you have the main ingredient - (Composition) - then you have the spices - (Arrangement). Once you have the right spice combination then the balance needs to be there to enhance – or it can certainly take away. I would order from this menu any day! Firstly, there are great songs to arrange. Secondly, the arrangements are thought provoking, challenging and logical. Lastly, the musicians perform them with mastery and the improvisations are at a very high and musical level.
From: Dick Crockett email@example.com Sacramento, CA
2003 Twirlie Nominations
Third Annual Twirlies. A celebration of subjectivity, cronyism and partiality given for outstanding achievement in jazz, this year of two thousand three. For all your Sammys, Bammys, Yammys, Crammys, Hammys, Lammys and Grammys, remember... there’s still a ‘Twirlie’ worth of honorarium! PS Since we couldn’t rent Radio City Music Hall for the occasion and weren’t able to attract the necessary sponsorship.(What do they know?) Regrettably, there are no sponsors, no celebrities, no free air fare, no per diem, and no budget to present the precious minted limited edition statuettes.(Proposed bronze cast figurine of a " Dizzy" replica with extended trumpet at an obtuse angle, hasn’t been approved, due to threatened litigation from the DIZ award organization. Claimant complains the angle of the trumpet is too obtuse.) This venue will suffice
TOP 10 BIG BANDS
Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra HIROSHIMA True Life Jazz
****( from Amazon .com ..John Tapscott )
One of the Best Big Band Jazz CDs of '03, January 19, 2004
For years, Phil Kelly has been a somewhat behind-the-scenes composer for film soundtracks and part time jazz educator. He has also been involved in the jazz world, having played drums for Sy Zentner and contributing charts to the Tonight Show Band and Bill Watrous' Refuge Big Bands. He has a well deserved reputation among musicians as an arranger whose charts they love to play.
Kelly moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1998 and put together a band consisting of the top musicians in that area. Finally, in August 2003, the NW Prevailing Winds (with guests Pete Christlieb, Gary Smulyan and Andy Martin aboard) recorded "Convergence Zone." Both the band and the performance are outstanding. This is defintely one of the top big band jazz albums of 2003. Certainly, it is one of the best recorded big band jazz albums I have heard in a long time. Many of today's big band recordings have great clarity but lack presence and dynamics. But this recording has plenty of "up-front" presence. The sectional work and the dynamics are captured perfectly. Listen, for example, to the brass swells on the opening "Damp Brown Places" and you will be applauding not only the music but the superb engineering job.
Among the many strengths of this CD is its variety. Kelly loves to have the band swing and it does so in many grooves here. Listen, for example, to "Damp Brown Places" "Subzatoot Shuffle" "Sweet Georgia Upside Down" (also recorded by Watrous), "You and the Night and the Music", "Yada Yada", and the uptempo Basie-like "OTBS" (featuring a parade of soloists), for an idea of how this band can swing hard in a pure jazz groove. Kelly voices the sax solis in a most interesting way. PK does a beautiful job with the ballads, too. "Bella Luce" is John LaBarbera's moving tribute to Conte Candoli, played in a heartfelt way by trumpeter Jay Thomas. Kathy's Waltz is Kelly's tribute to his late wife, featuring the tender but strong alto of Bill Ramsay. Both these ballads feature some very tasteful string programming. "Cuzn Bubba Luvz Ewe" and "The Refrigerator" are funky, greasy pieces played over rhythms laid down by a crack Nashville rhythm section. The jazz listener should not be put off by these tracks at all, as they are full of jazz content, blues licks, strong solos, and very tight ensemble playing. These latter pieces fit the album perfectly. Kelly's arrangements and compositions are more straightforward than say, Bob Florence's and Maria Schneider's, and thus easier to grasp on first listening. Yet there is plenty of musical meat here which rewards repeated listening.
The soloists grab the listener's attention, as well. Tenor Christlieb and trumpeter Thomas star all over this album. Smulyan and Martin solo, too, though there is no lack of solo strength among the regular band members. Ramsay and trombonist Dan Marcus are especially outstanding, along with fine solos from pianists John Hansen and Pat Coil(on the funk tracks), trombonist Gary Shutes, saxophonists Travis Ranney and Jim Coile, and trumpeter Vern Seilert. Special mention should be made of drummer Gary Hobbs who anchors the band on the jazz tracks and the ballads (Paul Leim is the drummer in the Nashville rhythm section). One veteran big band observer recently called Hobbs the best big band drummer in North America. Well, on the basis of this performance, there is no doubt that he has to be considered for the title. Everything Hobbs does, the swing, the accents, the power, the dynamics, is just perfect. He was fine on the Stan Kenton band, but he has developed over the years into a monster big band drummer.
"Convergence Zone" is a wonderful big band jazz CD, which should be purchased without hestation by anyone who loves the art.