Don't be put off by the name. Intrada, composer / arranger Dave Slonaker points out, is "a musical form often composed as a prelude, overture or fanfare," one whose upbeat phrases give rise to an exhilarating curtain-raiser on Slonaker's initial big-band recording. Rest assured this is a world-class ensemble and there's no doubt whose steady hand is at the helm: Slonaker wrote every number save the standard "It's Only a Paper Moon" and arranged the complete package.
If Slonaker's name is new to you, that's probably because he has spent much of his career as a composer, arranger and orchestrator in films and television. Film credits include Spider-Man, Air Force One, Oz the Great and Powerful, Alice in Wonderland and A Night at the Museum, and he has written for the TV series J.A.G., Murder She Wrote and others. Slonaker has also taught at USC and the Eastman School of Music, while his jazz works have been performed by Clark Terry, the Woody Herman and Count Basie orchestras, and many others.
All of which leads to this consistently impressive album in which Slonaker's vibrant and graceful themes are precisely and eloquently animated by a phalanx of the Los Angeles area's most talented and sought-after musicians. Noteworthy c.v. aside, it's clear from the outset that Slonaker has a jazz musician's soul and a sure command of the music's language and history. His music is contemporary in the best sense of the word, harmonically sophisticated yet always accessible thanks to an unswerving reliance on time-honored melodies and rhythms. In other words, this is big-band jazz that quickens the pulse, swings hard and enhances the tradition.
"Intrada" and "Paper Moon" are followed by eight more of Slonaker's inspired compositions, each of which provides a malleable springboard for the ensemble's resourceful soloists. Those who rise to the occasion include saxophonists Bob Sheppard, Adam Schroeder and Rob Lockart; trumpeters Clay Jenkins and Ron Stout, trombonists Bob McChesney and Alex Iles, bass trombonist Bill Reichenbach, pianist Ed Czach, bassist Edwin Livingston and drummer par excellence Peter Erskine. There's no point in singling out any particular song for immoderate praise, as every one is outstanding, as is the ensemble.
The same can be said for Intrada itself, a splendid debut by an extraordinary musician who it is hoped will devote even more of his time to leading a band. Well done!