The press release for this album has it that trombonist Rob McConnell is “One of the world’s most recognized composers and arrangers for large ensembles.” This is backed up by the usually trustworthy All Music Guide. Yet, when I listen to this CD—and I’ve listened to it several times as I write this—I don’t hear that. What I hear is another one of those jazz groupings that results from people whose love of jazz is greater than the contribution they have to make to it. Although there are pieces that grew on me—the opening version of “Old Devil Moon” is probably the best—on the whole this is perfectly competent but nonessential jazz.
I found saxophonist P.J. Perry’s album with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra of earlier in 2000 to be quite entertaining, but on “Two Bass Hit” here, he does not seem to shine as brightly. In his notes, McConnell himself calls this a “major saxophone feature”, and that is part of the problem. “Con Alma”, on the other hand, also a Dizzy Gillespie composition, is a winning feature for trumpet player Steve McDade, as “Maybe September”, by Percy Faith (!) and the theme to the 1966 film The Oscar is for pianist Dave Restino. The latter really ought to be played for any LedZep heads you know—see if they can spot the uncanny resemblance “Stairway To Heaven” bears to the intro to this 1959 Luiz Bonfa composition, played by McConnell himself. Restino also makes a laudable contribution to Strayhorn’s “Lush Life”, although it’s designated as a feature for flugelhorn player Guido Basso, and it is. The whole chart has some of the reflective qualities of Vince Guaraldi.
The sad truth is, this is Just Another Jazz Album. Pleasing to the faithful, perhaps, but not likely to bring any new converts into the church.
I’m sorry, I just don’t hear it.