5-STARS! While organist Barney McClure receives top billing on this exhilarating new album, he is happy to share it, for good reason, with the superlative Central Washington University Jazz Band from Ellensburg. As McClure asserts in the liner notes, "I was no more than a lucky rider on the bus." Well, a bit more than that, Barney, as your dynamic Hammond B3 is as pivotal to its auspicious outcome as the band's inspired performance or Phil Kelly's sharp and resourceful charts.
The idea to record a big-band album showcasing the Hammond B3 was McClure's, and to his credit, Chris Bruya, conductor of the CWU ensemble, embraced it with enthusiasm, as McClure had proven to be a show-stopper at the university's annual jazz festival. Enlisting Kelly as arranger was a master-stroke, as his buoyant arrangements are perfectly suited to the kind of assertive session McClure and Bruya had in mind. Saxophone maestro Pete Christlieb arranged his funky composition, "Hookin' It," Kelly everything else. Kelly also wrote "Top Fuel Pete vs. the Trav-Ski" and the impishly named "Horace Toccato."
Self-deprecation aside, McClure is securely in charge at the Hammond, driving the band relentlessly from his vantage point in the rhythm section while soloing with passion and dexterity. As a bonus, McClure wrote the album's persuasive finale, "Schizo Blues," on which he solos with alto Lucas Simpson, tenor Brian Lawrence and drummer Taryn Zickefoose. Rounding out the exemplary program are originals by Pat Coil ("Think Again") and Michael Denny ("Tick Tock"), Ann Ronell's venerable "Willow Weep for Me," Frank Loesser's "Slow Boat to China" (a more expeditious boat in this case) and Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe's "Show Me!," from the Broadway smash My Fair Lady, which heralds the session's upbeat point of view.
The UCW ensemble, which in McClure's opinion is "a university big band that is as close to professional perfection as anyone could imagine" (no argument here), boasts a number of talented soloists as well. Besides those already named, they include alto saxophonist Owen Evans (featured on "Hookin' It"), trombonist Beserat Tafesse (ditto on the Caribbean-slanted "Horace Toccato"), tenors Brian Lawrence and Alex Worland, trumpeter Skyler Floe, bassist Ryan Donnelly and pianist Drew Medak. That McClure, who through the years has performed with a veritable who's who of jazz luminaries, numbers this among the highlights in his impressive career speaks volumes. McClure remains at the top of his game, the CWU Big Band keeps pace with his every move, and Show Me! swings emphatically from start to finish. Bravo!