Both before and after his first terrific recording as leader—Gone with the Piggies (Consolidated Artists Productions, 1988)—Asheville, North Carolina-based Rich Willey has been a very busy jazzman. During that period, Willey spent dues-playing time with Philly Phenoms, New York Bopsters, did a stint with the great Maynard Ferguson, authored dozens of well-acclaimed trumpet and jazz improv books, wrote scores of original tunes, taught and, in his spare time, performed locally. However, within the last year he has released two outstanding recordings: a superb big band jazz album, Down and Dirty (Wise Cat Records, 2019) and now this smaller group funk send-up, Conspiracy.
The conspiratorial fare here is pure contemporized funk, marvelously hip, and played to “perfunktion.” Using a stellar ensemble, consisting of brass, woodwinds, B-3 organ, synthesizer and Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI), the Poobah of Boptism and his worthy mates deliver eleven Willey originals, each an example of superior composition, tight ensemble playing spearheaded by L.A. ace lead trumpeter Dan Fornero, sparkling solos, and badass Wally Minko arrangements. The grooves run the gamut from the hip-hopped bounce of the goofy “Mr. Magoo,” “Clip Clop Mogul,” “Eenie Meanie Beanie Weeny” and “Brother Kenya’s Paradigm” (aka “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?”), to the smoother jazzed (“Nude Eel,” “Blessed are the Hip”) and the straight-ahead closer, “Blues for Bobby.”
Willey is a versatile, highly inventive performer and soars throughout on both trumpet and the less-frequently-heard bass trumpet. He may be the only jazzer on today’s scene playing the instrument—and he owns it. The guy has solid trumpet and low horn chops and his improv reeks with superlative, inventive nuggets. The other soloists on the date are superb—from John Swana‘s EVI toots to Minko’s and Bobby Floyd’s respective keys and Dave Stryker‘s cooking guitar rides. The originals feature Willey’s trademarked angular and unexpected-direction themes. They’re a perfect fit for the double-timed rhythm beds of the selections. The incorporation of Philly-great Swana’s EVI and Minko’s synth, doubling Willey et al, is a neat touch and adds further juke-juice to the scene. When you add the ballsy sound of Floyd’s B-3 and ass-shaking bottom of Mike Boone’s ace bass and Byron “Wookie” Landham’s set-work, you have a recipe for a great session—and this is.
Conspiracy is a contemporized fun(k)house. Nothing to be paranoid about, boys and girls. Even Pennywise will dig it.
Track Listing: Mr. Magoo; Goofin’ Off; Clip clop Mogul, Blessed Are the Hip; Adrenaline Rush; Brother Kenya’s Paradigm; Secret things; Conspiracy; Nude Eel; Eenie Meanie Beanie Weeny; Blues for Bobby.
Personnel: Rich Willey: bass trumpet, trumpet; Dan Fornero: trumpet and flugelhorn; John Swana: valve trombone and EVI; Tom Evans: alto, tenor, bari saxophone, clarinet, flute; David Mann: tenor and soprano sax; Wally Minko: Fender Rhodes, synthesizer; Bobby Floyd: Hammond B3 organ, piano; Dave Stryker: guitar; Mike Boone: 5-string electric bass; Byron “Wookie” Landham: drums.