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Patrick Williams Big Band: Aurora

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Big-band jazz may have peaked in popularity in the 1930s, but Patrick Williams is out to prove it can still be vital. He did it once before with his Grammy-winning 1974 album Threshold, and this return to the bandstand is equally satisfying.

Williams, best known as a composer-arranger for TV and film (Columbo, Mary Tyler Moore) brings the right mix of retro and innovation to his latest project. Recorded live at Capitol Studio A with the great Al Schmitt engineering, it features an all-star cast of vets such as Hubert Laws, Tom Scott, Dean Parks, Gene Cipriano and Peter Erskine. But from the opening title track’s 2001: A Space Odyssey-goes-Cuban groove, and angular soloing from Bob Sheppard and Chuck Findley, it’s obvious that this isn’t your granddaddy’s big band. Williams has upped the ante by adding French horns and percussionists to his 21-piece band, and rather than rely on a safe repertoire of standards, he features self-penned material that has more in common with Steely Dan than with Glenn Miller.

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