by Jeff Becker
Rich Willey originally hails from Florida. His career took the performance route first with an active performance schedule in Philadelphia and New York from the early 1980s to the mid-90s. Including backing up and recording with legendary vocalist Mel Tormé. After years of hitting the trenches performing, Willey returned back to Florida and earned his bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of South Florida. In 1999, Willey earned his master’s degree in jazz performance/trumpet at Manhattan School of Music. He spent the fall of 2001 on tour playing second trumpet with trumpet Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau. Including touring for several years with the Tommy Dorsey orchestra under the direction of Buddy Morrow playing the second trumpet (jazz) chair.
Willey has three CDs to his name as a leader, with his latest Down & Dirty featuring high flying solos, plenty of funk, groove and shades of Latin and swing. The secret sauce in the recipe to success is called Rich Willey’s Boptism Big Band. The album features twelve Willey originals arranged by expert arrangers: Gordon Goodwin, Wally Minko and Chris Walden. The album is produced by Dan Fornero who assembled the all-star big band to highlight Willey’s tunes in the best light.
“Boogie Beast” is all about tight well-executed section playing. The melody is supported with the various sections playing rhythmic stabs and intricate passages, but no matter what is being played, this band is always in sync and clean. The arrangement is provided by Gordon Godwin and is rich in texture, color sonorites and energetic passages. Willey’s trumpet solo is in the pocket and matches the arrangement in its style, color and energy. The feel laid down by the rhythm section is prodigious and they deliver a feel for each section that feels great and always swings hard.
A focus on funk on “How ‘Bout That?” is arranged by Wally Minko. The funk feel is solid on this one and the band plays with energy and precision, the tune grooves with a deep pocket. Guitarist Andrew Sinowiec provides the perfect clean guitar figure with a tone that is straight out of the 70’s James Brown era. Jeff Driskill turns in an emotional solo that explores the range of his big warm tenor sound. Sinowiec stomps on the distortion pedal for his solo, making the energy rise as the band lays into the groove behind him. It is nice to hear the big band world embrace the power of fusion guitar. Well done guys!
The album features much more than bop tunes as the name of the group might elude to. Ranging from Latin to swing to contemporary to modern to groove, the propulsion to the album is stellar performances and strong writing. The collaborative effort on this album bears the fruit of its labor. Each performance is high octane performances fueled by Willey’s stalwart tunes. Down & Dirty is aptly titled, the album certainly gets down and gritty and comes up as the cream on top.