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Music Review: Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra — Mezzanine

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Clear mellow notes from Frank Glover’s clarinet provide a brief and moving introduction then segues into Luke Gillespie’s piano for the melody of Glen Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade”.  It’s a surprisingly slow paced arrangement of a classic more commonly known with an uptempo beat.  It works.  It works very well and creates an attention-getting, mood-setting atmosphere.  As the track continues, piano and clarinet exchange the lead with the melody and are supported by the other fifteen members of the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra (BWJO).  In spite of the outstanding talent assembled and the decades of combined experience performing, what stands out is the arranging.  

Wallarab: trombonist-arranger

Edgar Sampson’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy” is covered next and is further evidence of Wallarab’s charting talent.  These big band classics are made interesting again with dynamic arrangements and inspired performances. Wallarab takes advantage of the experienced talent with great interplay between brass, woodwinds, piano and percussion frequently showcasing individual performers with solos and opportunities for improvisation.  This is the kind of music you could listen to for hours and not get enough.  It has certainly earned a permanent and prominent spot on my playlist!

Hopefully Mr. Wallarab will consider it a compliment to be compared favorably with the late Tommy Newsom.  In fact, several tracks greatly reminded me of The Tonight Show band.  By contrast, however, Wallarab is also a noteworthy composer.  The first four tracks of Mezzanine are original pieces inspired by famous writers that he submits as “Suite Storytelling”.  Homage is paid to J.D. Salinger, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and Anton Chekhov by Wallarab, a prolific reader himself.

Brent Wallarab is a well known trombone player and studied jazz at Indiana University with David N. Baker and is now  jazz specialist for the Smithsonian Institution and assistant professor of music in jazz studies for the prestigious Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. This project pays tribute to the graduates of Baker’s program. Co-leader (trumpet and flugelhorn player), Mark Buselli currently serves as Education Director of the Buselli-Wallerab Jazz Orchestra in Indianapolis where he has created numerous educational opportunities for over six thousand students.

Would I buy Mezzanine?  Yes!  This CD is a great listening experience for any music fan.  The scripted and improvised solos alone are worth the price!

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