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Tom Talbert: This is Living

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Annotator Ken Borgers points out that Talbert’s writing “is full of textures, subtlety and genuine beauty.” Talbert’s albums recorded in California (most recently Duke’s Domain, Sea Breeze) bear that out, and so does this one. If This is Living has a New York edge, perhaps that can be attributed to joy the leader felt at recording in the city for the first time in more than 40 years. Now that he lives in both Los Angeles and Manhattan, he’s in his second New York period simultaneously with his second California one, reunited with old friends and tapping into New York’s reservoir of talented younger players.

Four of the musicians who helped make a classic of Talbert’s 1956 Bix Duke Fats (Atlantic, reissued on Sea Breeze) are back with him. They are trumpeter Joe Wilder, baritone saxophonist Danny Bank, clarinetist Aaron Sachs and trombonist Eddie Bert. Wilder, Sachs and Bert are featured soloists here, along with saxophonists Dick Oatts and Loren Schoenberg, trumpeter Glenn Drewes, trombonist Scott Whitfield and guitarist Howard Alden. The band is rounded out by trumpeters Joe Mosello and Danny Cahn, bassist Chip Jackson, drummer Jim Saporito, bass trombonist Dave Taylor, with Janet Lantz and Chris Costanzi on French horns.

Talbert’s sources cover a broad range unbounded by styles. There are pieces here as dissimilar as Willie The Lion Smith’s “Echo of Spring” and Tadd Dameron’s “Our Delight,” all transformed into arrangements recognizably Talbertian. His use of the French horns adds richness without sacrificing the lightness that is a distinguishing characteristic of his sound. Talbert’s composition “A Fool and his Honey” and his arrangement of John Lewis’ “Django” are striking examples of this ability to play off buoyancy against drama and achieve tension that sustains interest.

Talbert provides plenty of solo space. It is filled impressively by the veterans and the youngsters. Wilder’s immense tone, fluency and use of wide intervals are one of the great pleasures in jazz. He is heard far too little these days, and he makes the most of his opportunities here. Oatts substantiates the claim of many musicians that he is the best young alto soloist in jazz. Bert, apparently indefatigable, is as distinctive as ever with a perfect solo on “Our Delight.” Whitfield is impressive for his swing, intelligence and exploration of the changes in his solo on “Django.” Schoenberg, full of Lester Young and with hints of Lew Tabackin, has several good spots, as do Alden, Drewes and Sachs.

One hopes that Talbert will continue to record with his Los Angeles band, but this bunch of New Yorkers did his music justice, and then some.