It's been a while since the jazz world has seen a release from this group. The first three albums credited to the Chris Walden Big Band - the Grammy-nominated Home Of My Heart
(Origin Records, 2005), No Bounds
(Origin Records, 2006), and Kurt Marti Suite
(Origin Records, 2007) - came in quick succession. And then there was silence from Walden. Well, that's not exactly true. Walden's actually been quite busy in the interim, even if his work didn't center on his own big band. He's been cranking out orchestrations and arrangements for mega-stars like Rod Stewart, Michael Bolton, Michael Buble, and numerous others, so given that information, it's perfectly understandable that it took him seven years to deliver another album from this group. It was well worth the wait. Full-On!
is a tight and crisp set of big band music with solid and swinging lines, strong solos, and superb singing. Everybody brings their A game here, expertly nailing all the kicks and hits in Walden's impeccably crafted arrangements. Everything is in its right place, but the music still retains that indefinable spark that's often absent from sessions that are as orderly as this.
The program contains a handful of Walden originals along with natty rewrites and expansions on the music of Christopher Cross, Hank Williams, Leonard Bernstein, Stevie Wonder, The Yellowjackets, and others. Half of the material focuses on the band itself while the other six songs serve as showcases for vocalists. Melanie Taylor brings high-energy to her two features ("I Can Cook Too" and "Sir Duke"), Dorian Holley adds a dose of soul - and a dash of rap - to the proceedings ("If I Only Knew,") and Tierney Sutton is ever-captivating, working in a highly controlled and nuanced environment ("Only The Lonely"). Then there's Carol Welsman, riding high through Williams' territory ("Hey Good Looking"), Siedah Garrett, passionately pushing her way through a Christopher Cross classic ("Ride Like The Wind"), and Courtney Fortune, slyly sashaying over the lone original with vocals ("Lost In The Memory").
While the band sounds great on the vocal features, it's the instrumental numbers that really give pause to admire Walden's writing and the musicians that bring it to life. "Bailout" takes off with slinky saxophones, muted trumpet punches, and low end asides, but it turns into a real swinger when the solos start; "Gatsby" is a more mellow and measured statement from the band; the cheery, Brazilian-tinged "Bada Bamba" shines a spotlight on the marriage of Bill Reichenbach's bass trombone and Jeff Driskill's flute; and "Arturo" brings the warm flugelhorn sound of special guest Arturo Sandoval into the picture.
There are no weak spots on this one and no throw-away tracks to be heard. The Chris Walden Big Band gives its all throughout Full-On!