Mike Westbrook

Westbrook-Rossini

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There are few who claim middle ground when it comes to the Westbrooks. They have been both celebrated and maligned for their dry humor and novel approach to albums or genres (from rock & roll, theater music, and traditional big-band dates, etc.), and have also been criticized for their overly produced and polished approach to large orchestral original compositions of "new jazz." But, from whatever camp you happen to listen to this recording of the Westbrook septet based on themes and arias from Rossini, all arguments about this work of great innovation in the world of arrangement -- and an homage not above poking fun at its inspiration -- are transcended. This is a huge work, with spiraling Italian tarantellas played by Westbrook on the tuba, gorgeous arias sung by Kate, outlandish improvisational episodes where Lindsay Cooper gets to shine on her sopranino saxophone and Peter Whyman on his alto, and wildly contrapuntal flowing swing from Andy Grappy's tuba and Westbrook's piano. Peter Fairlough's drumming, Kate's tenor horn, and Paul Nieman's trombone usher in -- along with Mike's tuba -- a New Orleans read of the William Tell Overture; there are five different "takes" on it here. Actually, even though they are purposely unordered, the William Tells are the meditation for the entire work, as Westbrook weaves complex blends of musics, periods, instruments, and modalities through his gorgeously tonal and melodic arrangements that pay homage to both Gil Evans and Duke Ellington. There is nothing extra -- no bombast or academic seriousness. Only joy, wondrous innovation, and a truly accurate ear to bring the modernism in the original works to a postmodern audience.

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