If this splendid album, recorded two years ago (2010), is in any way emblematic of what lies ahead, the long-range outlook for big band jazz is indeed bright and auspicious. Saxophonist Alex Budman and trombonist Jeremy Levy have assembled a group of A-list musicians from the Los Angeles area who glide easily through Levy's elaborate compositions and arrangements with nary a lapse nor misstep, meanwhile swinging From There to Here in the finest big band tradition.
Levy, who moved to L.A. from Miami four years ago, wrote every number on the album save two, Bela Fleck / Jeff Coffin's "Zona Mona" and Michael Brecker's "Slings and Arrows," and arranged everything. Although he doesn't write or arrange, Budman is a strapping soloist who more than holds his own on soprano sax ("Miller Time"), bass clarinet ("Waiting") and tenor (half a dozen numbers). On "Waiting," Budman is accompanied by the ensemble and a string quartet. Levy wrote "Superbone Meets the Bud Man" as a feature for his trombone and Budman's tenor, but had the good sense to bring the peerless Andy Martin on board to play the role of "Superbone" to Alex's "Bud Man" (Martin solos again on "The Other One"). Even though Budman takes the solos, the reed section is an all-star group comprised (on various tracks) of altos Rick Keller, Phil Feather or Kevin Garren; tenors Glenn Morrissette, Glen Berger or Rob Hardt, and baritone Ken Fisher.
The sunny opener, "95 or 64," inspired by an auto excursion on I-95 and written in 6/4 time, embodies crisp solos by Budman and drummer Jamey Tate. "Miller Time," a graceful waltz written for Levy's composition teacher Ron Miller, precedes the buoyant "Zona Mona" (Budman, tenor; David Hughes, bass), the well-grooved "From There to Here" (showcasing Andy Langham's melodica), "It's Like That" (Andrew Synowiec, guitar) and "Idle Time," a sullen showpiece for Budman's tenor. "Brand New Year," which follows "The Other One" and precedes "Waiting," "Super Bone" and "Slings and Arrows," springs from a simple two-chord motif and includes purposeful solos by Langham and trumpeter Michael Stever. "Arrows," arranged when Levy learned of Brecker's passing, wraps the session in a cloak of unbridled intensity with kindred solos by Synowiecz and Budman.
Leading a big band these days is as close to a no-win dilemma as can be envisioned. Thank goodness there are headstrong enthusiasts like Alex Budman and Jeremy Levy who brush aside the odds and keep on making music. And not just any music, mind you, but the special kind that can be absorbed and appreciated on From There to Here, a remarkable album by any measure.