Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Chris Walden Big Band: Full-On

Origin Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Full-On

If Chris Walden is unfamiliar, you’ve some catching up to do. He mostly creates musical settings for major stars such as Stevie Wonder, Michael Buble, Diana Krall and Neil Young — as he puts it, “That’s where the money is” — but his real joy is big band jazz. This is his newest release in that genre.

Walden was born in Hamburg, Germany, apparently emerging from the womb as a fully formed musician. He was playing the recorder at age 5, the piano at 7, and the trumpet at 13; by the time he turned 16, he was writing arrangements and compositions for local high school bands. He studied at Hamburg’s Music Academy and subsequently graduated from the Cologne University of Music with two master’s degrees, in trumpet and composition.

He was a member of the German National Youth Orchestra, and he became involved in orchestrating and composing music for German films. He immigrated to Los Angeles in 1996, and went to work scoring TV movies for ABC, CBS, A&E, Hallmark and the Sci-Fi channels. In his spare time, he wrote arrangements for Paul Anka, Nancy Wilson, Michael Bolton and Christopher Cross.

Walden’s first love finally took over in 1999, and he created his first big band. 2005 saw the release of his first album, Home of My Heart, which received two Grammy nominations. That debut was followed by No Bounds and Kurt Marti Suite, and now Full-On.

Walden’s core group is a standard 18-piece unit, but 21 artists contributed to this album’s 12 tracks. Arturo Sandoval makes a guest appearance, as do six different female vocalists; one of the latter is Tierney Sutton, a personal favorite.

Five of the tunes are Walden originals, with the rest coming from Stevie Wonder, Leonard Bernstein, Hank Williams, Christopher Cross and other composers. Walden’s arrangements are true swingers, but quite tasteful and relatively “quiet,” because so much of his work is for vocalists. I’ve seen Walden’s work described elsewhere as “orderly,” an appropriately apt term.

This album will take you back to the heart and soul of the big band era, while simultaneously showcasing the talent and modern approach of today’s artists.

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