The Westchester Jazz Orchestra consists of seventeen premiere jazz musicians living or working in the suburbs just north of New York City. Finally, after performing for five years, the WJO, under the direction of Mike Holober, has released their debut recording, All In, an electrifying mix of familiar and not-so-familiar jazz gems.
The sparks fly on Joe Henderson’s "Caribbean Fire Dance," creatively arranged by Tony Kadleck and propelled by drummer Tony Jefferson’s polyrhythmic fire. Jason Rigby’s tenor saxophone solo evokes Henderson’s winding, snake-charmer approach to improvisation. "(No Longer) In the Mood" puts an angular twist to the Glenn Miller warhorse. The familiar themes are cleverly fragmented and Ed Ziques’ gritty baritone saxophone solo leaves a spirited taste of the blues.
Legendary trumpeter Marvin Stamm takes up the flugelhorn for a lyrical reading of Horace Silver’s "Peace," given exquisite orchestral coloring by arranger Pete McGuinness. Stamm blends acrobatic lines with lush phrasing to create one of the more memorable solos on the disc. The classic hard-bop sound of Silver is further explored on "Room 608," this time with trumpet ace Jim Rotondi singing through the tune’s spirited bounce. Wayne Shorter’s "Ping Pong" has a sneaky kind of vibe that swings along nicely with a stand-out solo by trombonist Larry Farrell.
Rigby returns to the solo chair for an unusually bright rendering of John Coltrane’s classic meditation, "Naima." Tenor Saxophonist Mike Migliore is also given ample solo space to pay homage to Coltrane, all the while propelled by Jefferson’s dynamic drumming.
The orchestra tips their hat to Bill Evans on the late pianist’s "Turn Out the Stars." Mark Peterson’s impressionistic arrangement is complimented by the stunning piano work of Ted Rosenthal. Holober's arrangement of George Harrison’s "Here Comes the Sun" is playful in nature, bouncing the memorable themes from one section of the orchestra to another. The tempo takes off swinging mid-tune with Jay Brandford’s alto saxophone sailing along effortlessly with the supportive wind of the top-notch rhythm section.
All In is an impressive debut for one of the premier ensembles on the east coast. It’s hard to go wrong with strong soloists buoyed by fresh arranging and cohesive interaction. Big band aficionados will not be disappointed.