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Rob McConnell and The Boss Brass: Even Canadiens get the Blues

With nine Concord Jazz releases behind him since 1991 alone, this latest in the 28-year-old, Toronto-based orchestra’s history is the hottest and most jazz-oriented of them all. McConnell himself contributed four new charts for this recording: the opening “Blue Tag,” with solos by the leader, tenorman Rick Wilkins and fluegelhornist Guido Basso; the title tune, an extended form swinger featuring trumpeter Steve McDade and tenorman Alex Dean; “The Clarinet is Black and Blue,” a showcase for the reed section and soloist Moe Koffman; and “The Shuffle Boogie Swamp Groove Blues,” a self-descriptive piece that alternates Doug Riley’s funky Hammond B-3 with powerful ensemble riffing and solos by McConnell, Dean and fluegelhornist John McLeod. The leader also provided an imaginative arrangement of Gary McFarland’s sensual “Blue Hodge,” replete with trenchant solo statements by Dean and guitarist Ed Bickert, who also shines, along with Ellingtonian-styled trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, on Wilkins’ down-home “The Country Blues.”

Trombonist Ian McDougall, a former leadman with the band, contributed “Do You Mean It?,” an adventurous score with centerstage spots for pianist Dave Restivo, altoman John Johnson and McLeod, while “Sixth Sense,” a partially Tristano-like, multi-themed chart by Vancouver pianist Jim Vivian, McConnell and Restivo. Following the aforementioned “Shuffle Boogie,” the disc closes with a brief statement of the anthemic “O Canada,” a respectful tribute to the country that produced one of the best big bands of our time. -Jack Sohmer

Originally Published