The first album that Wycliffe Gordon has made leading a big band, Somebody New is also an advertisement for the trombonist’s skills as a composer and arranger. The disc’s inside card states plainly, just below the credits, that all the charts used here are available for purchase. High school and college band directors should seriously consider the offer, as these are well-built arrangements of the Duke-via-Wynton variety, with occasional hints of New Orleans funk, particularly in “What You Dealin’ With” and the infectious baritone sax riff of “Herkie Jerkie.”
That there’s a deep Louis Armstrong fixation on display too-not least in Gordon’s half-dozen très Satchmoesque vocal turns-is hardly a surprise, given that five of these songs appeared previously on his 2011 album, Hello Pops! But those earlier versions didn’t feature the DiMartino/Osland Jazz Orchestra of Lexington, Ky., which performs impeccably. Trumpeter Vince DiMartino, alto saxophonist Miles Osland and pianist Raleigh Dailey deserve special praise for their pithy, thoughtful solos.
As for the leader, when he’s not singing or moonlighting more than credibly on trumpet or tuba, he’s busy making the trombone sound like a breeze to play. He is, it must be said, something of a showboat. In the middle of “Wishing Well,” a vaguely Latin-feeling original piece in 6/4 time, the action pauses for a minute-plus cadenza during which Gordon imitates a didgeridoo, a Tuvan throat singer, a Theremin and a horse flapping its lips-all of it gratuitous and mood-killing. And yet, as a lyrical run through “That Old Feeling” shows, he’s just as capable of high sensitivity. On the whole, a long but fun collection that rarely strays far from basic jazz truths.