Sunday, March 29, 2009

Charles Tolliver Big Band – Emperor March (Half Note Records, 2009)

Inspiration is wherever you find it, and for trumpeter, composer and arranger Charles Tolliver it came while watching the nature documentary March of the Penguins, which lent fuel to his creative fire and led to this progressive big band LP. Recorded live at the Blue Note club, this album compares favorably with the extraordinary With Love album he released a few years ago. The music crackles with energy and bravado and features wonderful soloing and ensemble playing. I downloaded the album from iTunes so I don't have a list of the soloists on each particular song, but the work by all concerned is uniformly excellent. They open with “On the Nile” which is a very exciting and exotic performance, making space for some excellent soloing on tenor saxophone and trumpet, and passionate full band passages. The version of “I Want to Talk About You” is inspired by John Coltrane's classic version from the Live at Birdland LP, right down to the solo tag ending for unaccompanied saxophone (is it Billy Harper?) The title track builds on a march feel, evoking the beautiful waddling waterfowl before blasting the flightless birds into a journey they could scarcely imagine! “In the Trenches” and “Toughin'” round out the set in grand style, this is lusty and virile music that is reminiscent of some of the larger ensembles led by the likes of Charles Mingus or Sam Rivers. This is thrilling and life affirming music that grabs you by the collar and demands your attention. Keeping a large ensemble together in this economy is no mean feat, but hopefully Tolliver can do it, because this truly is the sound of joy.
Emperor March: Live at the Blue Note -

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