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04/12/10

Phil Kelly & The Northwest Prevailing Winds
Ballet of the Bouncing Beagles
Origin Records

Phil Kelly -- crusader for canines, patriarch of puns, scholar of scoring -- has once again assembled an all-star collection of sidemen and soloists who can sight-read and improvise from some of the most complex charts in all Jazzdom. The mere fact that the likes of Pete Christlieb, Bill Ramsay, Jerry Dodgion, Jay Thomas, Grant Geissman and Gary Hobbs can be persuaded to leave the chummy confines of their studio or teaching gigs and convene in a venue far, far away for the purpose of recording someone else's oddly-named creations over and over again is eloquent testimony to the fertile brain of Mr. Kelly. But then they've known for many years that Phil Kelly is unquestionably the top arranger in the Northwest, and possibly the rest of the USA.

Proof is in the devilish details, like the tight, precise, swinging concerted sounds of "Limehouse Blues" (the only non-original of the ten offered here) with its emphasis on well-controlled dynamic shadings, thoughtfully sculpted solos by altoist Dodgion and baritonist Ramsay, and propulsive gap-filling by drummer Hobbs. "Play Tonic, Budz," based on the changes to "Just Friends" (platonic, dig?) is typical Kelly word play. Also typical is the sardonic solo by Christlieb on "Ewe Doo on Bubba's Shoux," inspired by Kelly's passion for funk, or as liner annotator, Dallas musician Marius Nordal, calls it, "swamp music." Underscored by Hobbs' near-martial beat, Thomas' laid-back trumpet solo, the muted trombone work by Dan Marcus -- while trumpets behind him punctuate the air with what at Berklee we would write on scores, the onomatopoetic "doit" -- and Kelly's signature, split two-part harmonies by saxes and trumpets, the chart is an infectious swinger.

Other thoughts. Kelly demonstrates how effectively jazz could be utilized in film scores with "Note-o-Riot-ee," using post-bop concerted writing that features wide-open voicings, ambiguous harmonies, an occasionally bi-tonal solo by tenorist Jim Coile, and non-stop power boosts by drummer Hobbs, all combining to create a hypothetically menacing movie cue. In stark contrast, for "B. D. Bunz," a simple riff for trombones -- a well-worn figure that re-appears often -- sets up the moderate swinger that provides a smooth cushion for a number of great, un-credited solos. No problem crediting the percussion that helps the band float on the waves of (don't ask; I won't tell) "Estos Frijoles Causa Me Falta Pasar A Los Vientos:" John Bryant and Ron Snider. Great trumpet section blowing on that one. Guitarist Geissman contributes a delicate acoustic solo on the Latin chart, "Rainshadow." Thanks to "four tenor brothers," Christlieb, Travis Ranney, Pete Brewer and Randy Lee, for re-creating an old-fashioned cutting session, "Top Fuel Pete Vs The Trav-ski." And finally, Kelly fashions a heartfelt homage to Grover Washington, thanks largely to the soprano sax playing of Travis Ranney.

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