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Tom Talbert Orchestra: To a Lady

If Tom Talbert had recorded throughout his long career at his pace of the 1990s-four CDs during the decade-he and his elegant, stimulating music might be better known. To a Lady adds to the evidence that they deserve to be. Sixteen of New York’s best players lavish their talents on the rich textures, complex lines and subtle rhythmic patterns in Talbert’s writing. Eight of the pieces are Talbert’s, encompassing moods from the Latin exuberance of “Chiripa” to shimmers of impressionism across the horn sections in the first part of “To a Lady Asking Foolish Questions.”

There is nothing conventional about the harmonic structure of the compositions or the way Talbert develops the pieces within their forms. When his “Tune for Two” seems about to enter standard big-band territory, Talbert heads it in an unexpected direction by reducing the ensemble to quintet proportions, introducing smatterings of sax-section commentary, starting a game of tag between the reeds and the brass, then opening up the arrangement for a solo by guitarist Howard Alden before introducing a beautifully voiced sax solo. He places Dick Oatts’ alto-sax solo over beds of saxophone chords with brass punctuations, brings in the full ensemble for 15 bars, reintroduces Alden for a seven-bar solo, goes back to the ensemble for 10 bars, has Oatts improvise for nine over a trombone choir and goes to a full-bodied riff figure that might have come from Nelson Riddle except that it collapses for a moment into the quintet sound before concluding on a hanging chord intoned by the trombones and French horns. It is typical of Talbert only in its avoidance of cliche and conventional wisdom. He makes each piece a little musical world of its own.

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