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Phil Kelly & The Northwest Prevailing Winds: Ballet of the Bouncing Beagles

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Phil Kelly — crusader for canines, patriarch of puns, scholar of scoring — has once again assembled an all-star collection of sidemen and soloists who can sight-read and improvise from some of the most complex charts in all Jazzdom. The mere fact that the likes of Pete Christlieb, Bill Ramsay, Jerry Dodgion, Jay Thomas, Grant Geissman and Gary Hobbs can be persuaded to leave the chummy confines of their studio or teaching gigs and convene in a venue far, far away for the purpose of recording someone else’s oddly-named creations over and over again is eloquent testimony to the fertile brain of Mr. Kelly. But then they’ve known for many years that Phil Kelly is unquestionably the top arranger in the Northwest, and possibly the rest of the USA.

Proof is in the devilish details, like the tight, precise, swinging concerted sounds of “Limehouse Blues” (the only non-original of the ten offered here) with its emphasis on well-controlled dynamic shadings, thoughtfully sculpted solos by altoist Dodgion and baritonist Ramsay, and propulsive gap-filling by drummer Hobbs. “Play Tonic, Budz,” based on the changes to “Just Friends” (platonic, dig?) is typical Kelly word play. Also typical is the sardonic solo by Christlieb on “Ewe Doo on Bubba’s Shoux,” inspired by Kelly’s passion for funk, or as liner annotator, Dallas musician Marius Nordal, calls it, “swamp music.” Underscored by Hobbs’ near-martial beat, Thomas’ laid-back trumpet solo, the muted trombone work by Dan Marcus — while trumpets behind him punctuate the air with what at Berklee we would write on scores, the onomatopoetic “doit” — and Kelly’s signature, split two-part harmonies by saxes and trumpets, the chart is an infectious swinger.

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