07/16/12 By Bruce Klauber
James Witherite: Big Band's Triple Threat
A review of the CD "James Witherite + 17"
With the exception of the moonlight-serenading Glenn Miller ghosters, there are no longer any big bands on the road these days. The young crew led by Maynard Ferguson was the last of its kind. MF’s death in 2006 represented, once and for all, the end of the traveling bands.
But the big band genre’ is hardly extinct. Certainly, there are the superb college and high school jazz bands, but in the professional sector, big bands abound for recording purposes, rehearsals and local gigs. An exception of sorts to the traveling rule is the case of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra under the direction of Wynton Marsalis, which does tour from time to time on a limited basis.
In the “local sector”—and “local” is not to be taken as a negative term—there is the Zeropoint Big Band based in central Pennsylvania. This talented crew has just recorded a CD, “James Witherite + 17,” featuring the arrangements, six of the nine compositions recorded, and the flugelhorn solos of Mr. Witherite himself.
You’ve got to love this guy. He’s a superb improviser—who swings like the dickens--an inventive composer and arranger, and, get this, a horse racing announcer who has breathlessly described thoroughbred and harness races at more than 50 tracks throughout north America. A renaissance man, indeed.
He’s been at the jazz game since childhood, studied formally at Duquesne, released his first CD as a leader, “West by Northwest,” in 2006; followed by “Live in Pittsburgh,” recorded a year later with the Duquesne University Jazz Ensemble.
The new CD is just marvelous in terms of ensemble tightness, intonation and sense of swing. There are, maybe, one or two ragged edges in the brass section on a selection or two, but that only adds to the excitement and makes these guys seem human! The rhythm section, booted by drummer Kevin Lowe, is loose enough to cook but precise enough to drive the rather complex shout choruses.
The short title cut, “0.67;” “Father John;” the standard “My One and Only Love” (featuring the Arthur Prysock-inspired vocals of Michael Andrews); and Duke’s “Love You Madly” (with a fine, fine vocal by Carolyn Perteete) are personal favorites. All the titles, however, are worth listening to again and again, as there’s something new to be heard on each go-round.
On a personal basis, I’ve heard James Witherite several times—on piano as well as flugelhorn—and I’ll only repeat what I told him. “Whenever I get a band together,” I said to him: YOU’RE HIRED.
And about the band? Take the plunge. Go on the road.
For more information on James Witherite, the Zeropoint Big Band, and the CDs availability, log on to www.JamesWitherite.net and/or www.ZeroPointJazz.com.
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