I've always been partial to the music of the big-band era, even though its heyday was a little before my time. I sometimes even feel a little envy for anyone who was around in those days to experience the music first hand, but I always have to remind myself that even today there are still some very good bands around.
A while back I reviewed a well-established one — the Count Basie Orchestra — but this time around my focus is on a new group put together by multi-talented trumpeter Eddie Allen, who is also a skilled composer and arranger. The band calls itself the Aggregation, and demonstrates with the release of its debut album, Groove's Mood, that there is still room for innovation in today's big-band music.
The Aggregation is a solidly professional 17-piece group that includes brass section stalwarts like Kevin Bryan, John Bailey, and Cecil Bridgewater, along with a reed section fortified by David Glasser, Howard Johnson, and Tia Fuller. There's a lot of other talent here too, and even a genuine songbird in the person of vocalist LaTanya Hall on two tracks.
But even though the orchestra's sound is reminiscent of the big-band era, most of the tracks on the album are a little more attuned to modern music fans. The one exception might be the old ballad, "Tenderly," which is well worth a listen just for Allen's trumpet solo. The rest of the album is mostly modern songs, along with a few new pieces by Allen.
Among the former are pop classics like Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour," which showcases Hall's vibrant vocal, and two versions of "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life." One includes another nice vocal turn by Hall while the instrumental take includes a mellow trombone solo by Clifton Anderson. Also notable is Freddie Hubbard's "Sky Dive," which takes on added depth in this full band arrangement.
My favorite among Allen's own compositions was probably "Brasilia," which is a Samba-flavored treat led by Fuller's alto sax work. I also found a lot to like about "The Black Coming," Allen's four-part orchestral suite dedicated to recognizing the struggle up from slavery. Each of the four movements are outstanding, but the best was probably "Jubilation," which rockets along with a definite be-bop sound.
Overall, a solid collection of jazz, one that includes a little something for every type of music lover. Recommended.