I first encountered Mark Buselli listening to the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra’s Where or When at the start of this year. I was taken by the crispness and fullness of their sound, so when a copy of Buselli’s An Old Soul came across my crowded desk I was excited to hear what the trumpeter and arranger was up to this time out.
Playing a program of 11 songs, An Old Soul finds Buselli taking the reigns for his first full album of his own arrangements. This is essentially a solo record, although trombonist Brent Wallarab and other members of the duo’s ensemble do take part. Also along for the fun and games is vocalist Kelleen Strutz. Just as Everett Green added spice to Where or When, Strutz amps things up on this recording.
Buselli, who began playing trumpet when he was eight, really works the melodies on this album, vigorously punching the voices of his soloists to the fore while still preserving the instinctive energies of the compositions’ themes.
An Old Soul opens with Buselli’s reimagining of “My Shining Hour.” Fans of old movies might recognize the song from the Fred Astaire film of the same name. Buselli’s arrangement works well to build to the pinnacle, utilizing inspiration from Bill Stapleton’s writing for Woody Herman.
“135 B. Chiswick,” a Buselli original, swings with the composer’s flugelhorn and a little bit of jazzy funk from bassist Jack Helsley.
Another composition written by Buselli, “An Old Soul,” is actually a tribute to the artist’s late golden retriever. An emotional, haunting piece of music, the piece is accented marvelously by pianist Luke Gillespie’s soft playing and Rob Dixon’s tenor.
Strutz’s vocals are a welcome addition, too, and never overwhelm the other players or Buselli’s arrangements. She shines on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “If You Never Come Back to Me,” singing in both Portuguese and English over Sandy Williams’ acoustic guitar and a superb 13-piece string section. Strutz’s beautiful tones are divine on “If I Fall In Love” as well, showcasing her subtle range on Matt Dennis’ hit.
An Old Soul is a great piece of work from Buselli. He excels at the little things here, favoring deep and simple arrangements over gaudy pieces and allowing every voice in the ensemble to mingle impeccably together. There is no jockeying for position and no artificial soloing. Buselli knows how to make everything fit as it should and that makes for a hell of a jazz record.