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The Peter Leitch New Life Orchestra: New Life (Jazz House)

Review of double album by the long-respected guitarist and composer, now entering a new era as big-band leader in the wake of a cancer battle

Cover of Peter Leitch New Life Orchestra album New Life
Cover of Peter Leitch New Life Orchestra album New Life

Between 1982 and 2014 guitarist/composer Peter Leitch recorded nearly 20 albums of often inventive, always hard-swinging jazz. Typically supported by renowned NYC-based players, his tunes never went where expected, and his guitar playing was a consistent delight.

Diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2012, Leitch was forced to give up guitar. But still driven to create, he reinvented himself as composer, arranger, and director of his 15-piece New Life Orchestra. The results? Emotional, inspiring, and very satisfying.

Expertly executed by a band that includes Duane Eubanks (trumpet), Bill Mobley (trumpet, flugelhorn), Jed Levy (tenor sax, flute, alto flute), Steve Wilson (alto and soprano sax), Phil Robson (guitar), and Joe Strasser (drums), Leitch’s reinvention rings clear and true through 17 wide-ranging compositions on two CDs, recalling Bob Brookmeyer, Thad Jones, or Jim McNeely. The performances have the feeling of a captivating live date, the musicians breathing life and fire into every track.

“Mood for Max” opens the set, a breezy, up-tempo tune with enough left turns to keep things interesting. When soloists take flight, the rhythm section further opens the way. The wistful “Monk’s Circle” dances lightly, sadly; “Exhilaration” is a joyous, exuberant celebration; the dark-hued “Elevanses” hints at inner turmoil within its cobweb-like mood; “Clifford Jordan” casts care aside; the tonally off-kilter “Tutwiler” intimates shadows without light; closer “The Long Walk Home” expresses strength, swing, and confidence.

That Leitch’s heroic abilities mark every second of New Life is testament to his dedication to his art. That the music speaks to life-affirming traits when life appeared at its nadir shows the power of the human spirit—of Peter Leitch’s indomitable spirit.

Learn more about New Life on Amazon!

Ken Micallef

Ken Micallef was once a jazz drummer; then he found religion and began writing about jazz rather than performing it. (He continues to air-drum jazz rhythms in front of his hi-fi rig and various NYC bodegas.) His reportage has appeared in Time Out, Modern Drummer, DownBeat, Stereophile, and Electronic Musician. Ken is the administrator of Facebook’s popular Jazz Vinyl Lovers group, and he reviews vintage jazz recordings on YouTube as Ken Micallef Jazz Vinyl Lover.