Chris Walden Big Band

Full-On!

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MUSIC REVIEW BY Carol Banks Weber, AXS

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Chris Walden's been so busy scoring and arranging other people's projects, he barely has time for his own music. The five-time-Grammy-nominated, German composer/arranger hasn't put out his own record in seven years, not since the wonderfully received Kurt Marti Suite. He's been too busy writing arrangements for stars like Diana Krall, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Michael Bublé, Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, Christopher Cross, Sheryl Crow, and Nancy Wilson - among many others - and scores of movie and TV soundtracks, over 40.

His new, September 16th release is a return to his first love of big band jazz. Full-On! [Origin Records] boasts a heady personnel of some of L.A.'s strongest, most in-demand studio musicians, saxophonists, trumpeters, trombonists, guitarists, keys, bass, percussion - all recognizable names in the world of jazz. They include special guest Arturo Sandoval, saxophonists Bob Sheppard, Jeff Driskill, Tom Peterson, and Kim Richmond; trumpeters Kevin Richardson and Kye Palmer; trombonists Rich Bullock, Alex Iles, and Paul Young; bassist Kenny Wild, drummer Ray Brinker, percussionist M.B. Gordy, keyboardist Alan Steinberger, and guitarists Mitch Holder and Andrew Synowiec, along with vocalists Courtney Fortune, Siedah Garrett, Dorian Holley, Tierney Sutton, Melanie Taylor, and Carol Weisman. Wow.

All in a day's work for the two-time Ernst-Fischer-Prize winner, who was practically born writing big band arrangements. He and his famous musician friends work on other projects all the time. They were able to record 10 tracks out of 12 in one day, an amazing feat considering the volume and meticulousness of material and the mass of personnel Walden orchestrated into place.

The 18-piece, big band numbers range in styles from light and breezy, slap-happy-snappy ("Bada Bamba," "Lost In The Memory") to wham-bam!-Broadway baby ("Hey Good Looking," "I Can Cook Too"), to soulful, orchestral treatments of some Top 40 pop and rock covers ("Sir Duke," "Ride Like The Wind"). Walden devotes equal attention to the instrumentals and the vocals, enhancing the punch of the horn section with the sass of R&B-leaning singer Melanie Taylor in "I Can Cook Too," the big band with the scat-rap luxury of Dorian Holley ("If I Only Knew"), or the blues torch of another singer, Tierney Sutton, in "Only The Lonely."

When Walden and his Big Band get down in the original tribute, "Arturo," with the flugelhornist himself and tenor saxophonist Brandon Fields, it's exquisite alchemy.

Chris Walden isn't one to toot his own horn. He prefers to let listeners decide on the value of his music. Yesterday, the bandleader elaborated a bit more on the record and wherever it takes him.

It's been seven years since your last album, the 2007 Kurt Marti Suite. What prompted such a big, brassy return?

I was just continuously busy with writing arrangements for artists like Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, Christina Aguilera, and TV shows like American Idol and the Oscars. I did manage to find some time to write a new piece here and there for my band, but could never carve out some time to record it until now.

You spend most of your time arranging for artists outside of jazz. What does it mean to you to return to your great love, big band jazz, in this new album?

My arranging for artists is not all outside of jazz. Some of the artists I arrange for are jazz artists like Arturo Sandoval or Diana Krall, some artists are at least somewhat jazz-related like Michael Bublé or Paul Anka, and yes, some have nothing to with jazz like Rihanna or Andrea Bocelli. But nevertheless, I enjoy arranging for them, no matter if jazz-related or not. But writing for my own band means that I can create music without given parameters, I can just write what I feel. But I like going back and forth between those two.

Recording a traditional, but original quartet jazz album is hard enough. But big band, with all the personnel attached? How did you get so many respected musicians - Kenny Wild from Seawind! - to play with you?

The musicians in my big band have been with me now for 15 years, and as much as I can I also use them when I do recordings for other artists, so in that sense we work together a lot, also outside my own big band.

What was it like to put these fantastic sidemen together for your Full-On! big band album?

It was like any other day "at the office" since I work with them all the time on different projects, with the only difference that after seven years we got to record our own project again.

How do you stand out from the crowd of big band jazz artists with big band jazz albums? Describe your own unique style and approach to the material.

That's probably best for the listener to answer, since everybody hears something different in my music. I just try to write music that is true to myself.

What have been your favorite and most proud moments in recording this album?

My most proud fact of this album is that we recorded almost all of it, 10 tracks in one day!

What of you is all over this album?

My passion for big band music.

Full-On! is obviously a labor of love for you, more for the fun of it than anything else. You plan to definitely showcase the songs in Japan, and maybe the East Coast. What went into the decision to tour these places over others?

We're in the planning stages and nothing's been confirmed yet, but it wasn't as much as a conscious selections process as rather having existing relationships with certain venues. We'll play wherever they want us...!






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