Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Buselli-Wallarab Big Band: Basically Baker Vol. 2

Patois Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Basically Baker Vol. 2

David Baker (1932-2016) devoted his life to jazz. He was a trombonist early on, playing with icons such as Freddie Hubbard, John Lewis and George Russell. A jaw injury prevented Baker from continuing with that instrument, so he switched to cello — composing and arranging — and then teaching.

He taught for years at Indiana University’s Jazz Studies Department, during which time he was commissioned by more that 500 individuals and organizations for compositions. Baker received nominations for both the Pulitzer Prize and Grammy awards, was inducted into several Jazz Halls of Fame, and ultimately received the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching.

The 17-piece Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra was founded in 1994. Mark Buselli earned degrees from both the Berklee College of Music and Indiana University; he plays piano and trumpet, composes and arranges, and has received numerous awards. Brent Wallarab is a graduate of Southern Illinois University’s Carbondale School of Music, and Indiana University. He currently works at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., where he transcribes, edits and restores works of big bands deemed to be “national treasures.” He also plays trombone in the Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. 

This two-disc album contains 11 of Baker’s best jazz compositions and arrangements; as the title indicates, this is the second such release of his work.

You’ll immediately notice that Baker thinks and writes as a teacher; his chord structures and rhythmic patterns are richer and more “full” than most jazz arrangements. He enjoyed modifying the basic chords of jazz standards: “Sweet Georgia Brown” became “The Georgia Peach”; “Bebop” is transformed into a much more complex “burner” than Gillespie’s original chart, which has almost become the jazz National Anthem. 

Everything swings, and the solo work by the instrumentalists is excellent; it also sounds “new and different.”

This is a masterful album by an outstanding group of instrumentalists who obviously enjoy Baker’s creative interpretations of jazz.

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