Online since August 2002

First-rate big band music

From the Winter 2004 issue.

Flying Dream
Flying Dream
By Gordon Lee and the GLeeful Big Band

OA2 Records: 2004

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Pianist Gordon Lee has dubbed his ensemble the GLeeful Big Band, and that "Gleeful" description might conjure images of a loose good time, honking and squealing, maybe the tenor sax guy getting up and doing a dance during the trombone solo. But Lee's effort at big band arranging on "Flying Dreams" comes across as a sparkling mainstream set.

It's the arrangements – the textures, the layering of sounds, the eyebrow-raising counterpoint – that kick this one up to top level of big band artistry. Lee cites Mingus, Maria Schneider, Ellington and the classical composer Gustav Mahler as influences, and you hear all those tinctures on the set – Ellingtonian reed harmony on "Where or When" (the only non-original on the disc); dark, churning Mahleresque atmospherics on "Bitter Wind"; and the soaring spirit of Schneider's complex and often delicate arrangements on the superb title tune.

The soloing here is particularly lively. These guys aren't what you'd call high profile in the national, big press sense of the word; that seems to be reserved for New York-based musicians – but they can hold their own with anyone. Alto saxophonist Gary Harris takes a rich-toned turn on the opener – and the rhythm section behind just swings, with drummer Carlton Jackson catching the ear with a crisp and insistent momentum – while alto sax man Tom Bergeron stands out with his softly-blown, whole bunch-of-notes solo on the title tune. And behind these solos pianist Lee embellishes, adds subtle and colorful garnishes to the guy in front until the multiple horn harmony swells back in.

Gordon Lee and the Gleeful Big Band may not be a big-name outfit, but they've crafted a truly first-rate set of big band sounds.

Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.

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