Thursday, January 8, 2009

Doug Hamilton: Jazz Band

OA2 Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 1.8.09
Buy CD: Jazz Band

If you've never heard of Doug Hamilton, there's a good reason; by day he's Dr. Doug Hamilton, head of surgery at two hospitals.

Hamilton didn't seriously pursue jazz until he was 40, when he picked up a trombone and began lessons — and studied arranging — at night. After 10 years, in the 1980s, he founded The Brass Connection: a Juno Award-winning group consisting of five trombones and a five-man rhythm section.

He released a CD in 1986 (“A Five Star Edition”) that featured trombone greats Carl Fontana, Bill Watrous, Jiggs Whigham and Ian MacDougal. In '93, Hamilton formed his jazz band tentet using musicians from U.S. military groups such as the Army Blues. This unit is smaller than a standard big band — Hamilton uses just two trumpets, one trombone, three reeds and a piano, bass, guitar and drums — but his compositions and arrangements are such that the group sounds, and swings, like a much larger orchestra.

Hamilton composed three of the 13 tracks here and arranged all of them, but he did not play trombone; that task fell to Matt Niess.

Hamilton's arranging style is similar to that of greats such as Bill Holman and Bob Florence; on some tunes, the melodic improvisations are done up-front, with the familiar melodic lines saved for the final part of the arrangement.

He also leaves plenty of “open” spacing for the solos, a technique that inspires and challenges each instrumentalist; of particular note are trumpeter Craig Fraedrich, guitarist Jim Roberts, baritone saxman Scott Silbert, tenor saxman Tedd Baker and pianist Tony Nalker. Drummers Steve Fidyk and Dave McDonald split the tracks and keep things moving.

This is a fine “little big band”; it sets the bar high for all others.

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