Monday, July 6, 2015

Michael Waldrop Big Band: Time Within Itself

Origin Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Time Within Itself

Percussionist Michael Waldrop plays both drums and mallet instruments (vibes and marimba). He has a PhD and currently is a professor of percussion at Eastern Washington University, where he teaches both jazz and classical courses. 

He also directs a big band, and this is that ensemble’s inaugural album.

Once upon a time — back in unenlightened times — drummers often were looked down upon. (Question: “How big is your band?” Answer: “Sixteen musicians and a drummer.”) Happily, that’s no longer the case. During the past several months, I’ve reviewed numerous units led by drummers who have college degrees, who compose and arrange their own music, and who are affiliated with — and teach — at upper-level schools. Waldrop is in good company.

He was a member of the Grammy-nominated One O’Clock Lab Band; he has toured the U.S. and Europe with various groups; and he has played with numerous jazz icons and personnel. The big band here is impressive: five reeds, eight brass and a rhythm section of four, along with guest performers on some tracks. 

All of these tracks are original compositions, half by Waldrop. Woodwind impresario Jack Cooper (who also fronts his own big band) wrote the others and masterfully arranged everything on the album. Everybody deserves mention, but I must acknowledge master guitarist and vocalist Jimi Tunnell, and vocalist Sandra Dudley; both contribute “no-word” shading on three tracks, using their voices as instruments, to back up the band’s swinging instrumental passages. The result is impressive, and really adds to the impact.

This is a wonderful orchestra, filled with extremely talented artists. Want more proof? The entire album was completed in just one day!

Jiggs Whigham: not so standards

Azica Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: not so standards

I’m willing to bet that few readers will recognize any of this trio’s artists ... although I might be mistaken when it comes to trombonist Jiggs Whigham. He leads this group, and he played with two of the more famous “ghost” bands: the Glenn Miller orchestra that was led by Ray McKinley in 1961, and the 1963 Stan Kenton “mellophonium” band. 

Whigham was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1943; he was only 17 when he joined the Miller group. But touring wasn’t what he wanted as a profession, so — after his stint with Kenton — he settled in New York City to play commercially. That didn’t satisfied him either, so he migrated to Germany, where he still lives and works.

Whigham teaches and is a regular with big bands led by Kurt Edelhagen, Bert Kaempfert and Peter Herbolzheimer (likely unknown in the States, but big in Germany). Whigham also has been musical director for the Radio in the American Sector Big Band, and currently conducts Great Britain’s BBC Big Band. He periodically returns to the U.S., where he plays and records with American jazz artists.

The trio featured on this release is unusual, in that it consists of trombone, piano and electric bass. German-born Florian Weber is on piano, while Romanian-born Decebal Badila handles the bass. The session, recorded live at Cleveland’s Nighttown Jazz Club, contains three Great American Songbook standards (“The Days of Wine and Roses,” “Autumn Leaves” and “Some Day My Prince Will Come”), two jazz standards (“Bags’ Groove” and “Saint Thomas”) and one original by Whigham. 

The trio sound is unique: definitely not what most folks are accustomed to hearing. Part of that is the instrumentation: The electric bass isn’t as “full” as an upright, and there’s no drummer to help fill in the “bottom.” Additionally, the musicians’ overall style shows a noticeably modern European influence: smooth and “clean,” and not as loose or swinging as many American talents.

All that said, “different” is no less enjoyable. Whigham’s trio delivers an impressive album, and one that deserves placement in your library.