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The Carl Saunders Exploration: The Lost Bill Holman Charts

The origin of this labor of love derives from long dormant charts that Bill Holman wrote for an aborted project in the 1980s. Resurfacing here, these never-before-heard scores display an overlooked aspect of Holman’s art, that of the small-group arranger. Long celebrated for his associations with the big bands of Stan Kenton and others, Holman is also a master of deriving orchestral heft from more compact ensembles. Led by its trumpeter, the Carl Saunders Exploration-on this a septet occasionally augmented by guest soloist Sam Most on baritone saxophone and flute-works overtime to accommodate Holman’s stuffed-to-the gills arrangements. The result is a polished performance that necessarily pulls attention away from the sturdy soloists and back to the man behind the scenes.

Operating with the tautness of a well-drilled jazz orchestra (it probably doesn’t hurt that six of the seven players are from Holman’s own band), the septet negotiates charts that utilize already memorable standards including “Three Little Words” and “Dearly Beloved,” and jazz tunes (Ellington’s “All Too Soon,” Gillespie’s “Ow”) as readymade frameworks for intricate variations that continually set off the brass and reeds frontline to majestic effect. Even Holman’s five own original compositions, attractive as they are, seem to interest their maker mainly as canvases for additional musical swirls and daubs. In the album’s notes, Holman claims he wrote these charts with no specific players in mind; to their credit, the Saunders Exploration makes these finely crafted works sound exclusively hand-stitched.

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