What’s in a name? While that maxim remains a matter for debate, don’t let this particular name mislead you. In the parlance of trumpeter Rich Willey‘s Los Angeles-based Boptism Big Band, Down & Dirty translates into well-scrubbed & swinging. There’s really no better way to describe the performance of eleven of Willey’s wide-ranging compositions and one standard (“Old Folks”) by an ensemble comprising many of southern California’s foremost jazz musicians who not only master but amplify superlative charts by Gordon Goodwin, Wally Minko, Chris Walden and Mike Abene.
Yes, there are some grungy moments along the way but they are always overladen with astuteness and taste. In other words, the music may be down at times but it is never dirty in the sense that one might describe a late-night jam session in which patterns are improvised and ripened on the fly. Everything here is carefully planned and impeccably recited, from funk to Latin, baroque to reggae and rock, which is not to suggest that the result is any less earnest or inspiring. Although Willey’s handsome themes may be a step or so removed from becoming jazz standards, they are nonetheless sharp and pleasing, and always deftly brought to life by the world-class Boptism ensemble. To his credit, Willey leads to his strength, opening with a pair of resourceful charts by Goodwin (“Boogie Beast,” “Walter the Ferret”), Minko’s emphatic take on “Down & Dirty” and Walden’s seductive arrangement of “Eyes All for You” (based on the standard “Body and Soul”). While the rest of the album is admirable on its own terms, it never quite rises to that level again, coming closest perhaps on the heartfelt finale, Abene’s glossy arrangement of the ballad “But for the Grace of God,” on which the band is enlarged by a thirty-two member string section to underscore Willey’s earnest flugelhorn solo.
Willey, who also plays the too-seldom-heard bass trumpet, claims a large share of the solo space but leaves room for persuasive statements by Minko (at the keyboards and synthesizer); tenors Bob Sheppard, Jeff Driskill and Sal Lozano; altos Brian Scanlon and Brendan Higgins, baritone Jay Mason, trombonists Andy Martin and Alex Iles, guitarist Andrew Synowiec and special guest Thomas Hooten, principal trumpet of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who dazzles on piccolo trumpet (“Down & Dirty”). In his first try at recording as leader of a big band, it seems that Willey has left nothing to chance. The songs, the arrangements, and especially the blue-chip ensemble are superb, combining to make Down & Dirty an appetizing treat for big-band enthusiasts.
Track Listing: Boogie Beast; Down & Dirty; Walter the Ferret; Eyes All for You; Dancing Hippo; Ed Zachary Meets Gregory Peccary; How ‘Bout That?; Old Folks; Little Treasures; Not So Fast!; Funk Heap; But for the Grace of God.
Personnel: Rich Willey: leader, composer, trumpet, flugelhorn, bass trumpet; Wayne Bergeron: trumpet; Dan Fornero: trumpet; Rob Schaer: trumpet; Mike Rocha: trumpet; Tony Bonsera: trumpet; Dan Higgins, Brian Scanlon, Bob Sheppard, Jeff Driskill, Sal Lozano, Jay Mason: saxophones; Alex Iles: trombone; Andy Martin: trombone; Steve Holtman: trombone; Bill Reichenbach: bass trombone; Dylan Hart: French horn; Danielle Ondarza: French horn; Wally Minko: keyboards, synthesizer; Andrew Synowiec: guitar; Edwin Livingston: bass; Peter Erskine: drums; Joey De Leon: percussion; Songa Lee: violin; Josefina Vergara: violin; Benjamin Jacobson: violin; Natalie Leggett: violin; Marisa Kuney: violin; Jennifer Choi Fischer: violin; Mark Robertson: violin; Maya Magub: violin; Joel Pargman: violin; Sara Parkins: violin; Eun Mee Ahn: violin; Nina Evtuhov: violin; Daphne Chen: violin; Amy Hershberger: violin; Tamara Hatwan: violin; Michele Richards: violin; Carrie Kennedy: violin; Armen Anassian: violin; Ji Young An: violin; Lorand Lokuszta: violin; Neal Hammond: violin; Lucia Micarelli: violin; Andrew Duckles: viola; Eric Rynearson: viola; Alma Fernandez: viola; Karen Elaine: viola; Carolyn Riley: viola; Victor de Almeida: viola; Jacob Braun: cello; Vanessa Freebairn-Smith: cello; Cecilia Tsan: cello; Dennis Karmazyn: cello; David Stone: bass; Trey Henry: bass. Special guest: Thomas Hooten: piccolo trumpet (2).