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Mark Buselli: An Old Soul

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Six years and five CDs ago, Mark Buselli and Brent Wallarab decided to pool their charts and chops and function on either side of a hyphen. Based in Indiana, the co-leaders and their 16 sidemen are forcing educators and jazz departments everywhere to take them seriously: one leader at a time. This album features Buselli as conductor/arranger on all tracks. Wallarab will be featured on the next release.

When an arranger spreads his gospel over an entire session, one gains insight into his technique, something that becomes clear with the very first track, “My Shining Hour.” Sections are tight, dynamics are shaded, you can hear baritonist Ned Boyd anchoring the reeds, bass trombonist Richard Dole doing likewise for the ‘bones, and bassist Jack Helsley is walking firmly. It’s the kind of clean, lucid writing and playing found all over the CD. Buselli’s flug and Helsley’s bass can be heard in unison on Mark’s original, “135 B. Chiswick,” a track that contains Buselli’s best flugelhorn solo. “Artificial Bebop” is a misnomer; there’s nothing artificial about the bop solos the arrangement inspires from altoist Rob Dixon and trumpeter Derrick Gardner.

Programmatically, “Fables of Faubus” and “An Old Soul” should have switched titles. Not to second-guess Buselli, but the title tune is a loving tribute to his late golden retriever, filled with flowing, contrapuntal lines, but Mingus’ “Faubus” contains loping rhythms and a backing punctuated by growls and double-time episodes. Instrumental highlight is Strayhorn’s impressionistic portrait of “Chelsea Bridge,” with baritonist Boyd adding to Buselli’s infusion of whole-tone scales in the atmospheric chart.

Another highlight is the auspicious debut of singer Kelleen Strutz. Blessed with good range and unwavering intonation, she contributes five vocals. Among the best: Buselli’s own “Open Up Your Heart,” in which she displays both range and pitch with her precise, wordless unison with the saxes; and her torch version (matching Buselli’s chart) of “Angel Eyes.” There’s an appropriately moody solo by altoist Mike Stricklin, but Ms Strutz has the last word and it’s a beaut..she cozies way up to a flat five, then resolves it by ending on the fifth.

Originally Published