Arranger Gary Urwin has recorded two albums with his Jazz Orchestra, which consists of well-known Southern California musicians, and now his third is being released on Summit Records, as the recognition of Urwin’s talent for invigorating a big band becomes even more recognized. On Kindred Spirits,
the same effervescent energy and technical precision remains - a fact particularly evident on the hard-swinging first track, "Lester Leaps In." The trumpets provide undeniable force and wit, drummer Ralph Razze provides irresistible drive, and the entire band, cohesive and winsomely entertaining, play as one in the spirit of Count Basic. However, the catalyst for Kindred Spirits
was the involvement of trombonist Bill Watrous and saxophonist Pete Christlieb, who had appeared together briefly on Living in the Moment,
on which Watrous was the special guest. On Kindred Spirits,
though, Watrous and Christlieb constitute the front line as the focus of the arrangements and the performances. Both of them worked with Urwin to select the tunes that he would arrange, they added song ideas to personalize the work.... and they soloed. On "Lester Leaps In," Watrous and Christlieb take the first solos, setting the tone for the remainder of the solos (which include bassist Trey Henry, Razze and trumpeter Wayne Bergeron too). In addition, Watrous and Christlieb conclude the performance with serpentine, cadenzas of complex and delightful interplay. Still, listen to the band’s dynamism! The listener can tell that every member of the orchestra is engaged in providing the best possible performance, as each section is featured and as the piece rockets into an exciting liftoff for the entire album, especially after the final key change.
In contract, the "Theme from Chinatown"
follows "Lester Leaps In," and this overlooked but classic movie composition, supremely beautiful in its evocation of 1940’s Los Angeles, obviously serves as a showcase for Watrous to interpret it with requisite burnished glow. The Watrous who was engaged in rapid-fire exchanges on "Lester Leaps In" and will do so again on the medium-fast-tempo version of "Beautiful Love" displays the magnetism of his mastery of the trombone. He does so again on the minimally arranged "Danny Boy" (which, yes, initially has a harp backing Watrous), as he brings out the emotional weight of the song, not just in initial exposition, but also when he improvises over the changes, as does Rusty Higgins with direct appeal on alto flute.
Urwin features Christlieb on several disparately chosen pieces as well. On "My Ship," he brings out the emotional content of the song on tenor saxophone as he plays in the middle range of the instrument with melodic directness, embellished by a bridge played by flutes and clarinets. Wayne Shorter’s "E.S.P." is presented as a rollicking big band piece with muted brass accents and saxophone section sweetness until Christlieb comes in on the first repeat to take command with confident improvisation, which sets up the extended of deep hues within the connecting segment before pianist Christian Jacob’s solo.
Even though Watrous and Christlieb inspired Urwin and created the consistent theme for the recording, the uniqueness of Urwin’s arrangements, steeped in the jazz tradition but still characterized by his own sense of fun, make each of his successive albums models of unpredictable pleasures, such as his approach to "Girl Talk," tap-dancish and light-hearted to feature Razze’s brush work at the beginning and between the moods Christlieb and Watrous establish before Razze again ends the piece briefly "Cute"-like. Urwin writes in the liner notes that Kindred Spirits
is a labor of love, and even the listener can discern that by listening to the spirited playing throughout the album.