Release number two for the Norman-McCarthy band, and the momentum from its debut album, Words Cannot Express, as well as ten of its key players being intact, lend continuity to this exciting D.C.-based organization. Since Washington seems to have an inexhaustible supply of eager, first-rate sidemen thanks to the profusion of service bands in the Capital, co-leader/arranger, multi-instrumentalist Norman had no problem picking up where he left off in 2007.
The 18-piece band is a model of sectional clarity and precision that delivers everything Norman challenges them with; the opener, "Knight For A Day," is eloquent proof. Based on a programmatic premise -- conflict between a knight and a dragon (or, as Norman reveals, his heroic victory victory over a "15-foot tall plant growing on my fence line") -- it begins with McCarthy's simple percussive kick-off that launches a contrapuntal encounter: evil reeds ascending vs. intrepid brass descending. Stalwarts from the debut album -- altoist Andy Axelrad, pianist Tony Nalker, guitarist Gary Malvaso -- contribute lionhearted solos.
Norman dedicated the ballad "For My Beloved" to his wife Amy, but Tim Stanley elicits such a warm interpretation from his flugelhorn, you wonder just who is married to her. Keeping it in the family, when Norman's son Ray (not yet two), created a minor-mode motif at the piano that Norman Sr. kept in mind, it was later adapted into the line that bassist Mike Pope snakes under "Ah Dju Bah" and inspires Malvaso and tenorist Ben Bokor to fine, straightahead variations on Ray's scale fragment. The scat-like title came wholly from the toddler. There seems to be a modal kinship between "Ah Dju Bah" and the next track, "Trilogy." It gives rise to excellent explorations by baritonist Rob Holmes (who adds a muscular lead timbre to the unison line before the out chorus) trombonist Joe Jackson and trumpeter Stanley.
Another highlight is "Sugar," which Norman based on the changes to Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar." But don't try to dance to it; it's in 5/4. A small combo within the band tackles it expertly: Norman, a combo all by himself, doubles on C soprano and alto saxes; trombonist Ben Patterson, tenorist Luis Hernandez and Malvaso round out the group. The same Turrentine chords lead to another track, the ballad "Katelyn," which could single-handedly lead to the rejuvenation of the melodica, played quite tenderly by Norman. Not to be overlooked are his intense tenor solo on the title tune, and the doubling contributions by Steve Williams, who lights up "Super Grover" on soprano and "Goodbye Mr. Schulz on alto sax.
Underpinning this versatile ensemble, one can hear the firm tones of trumpet lead Chris Walker and the kinetic drumming of co-leader Joe McCarthy. It is a first-rank aggregation.