Percussionist Michael Waldrop plays both drums and mallet instruments (vibes and marimba). He has a PhD and currently is a professor of percussion at Eastern Washington University, where he teaches both jazz and classical courses.
He also directs a big band, and this is that ensemble's inaugural album.
Once upon a time - back in unenlightened times - drummers often were looked down upon. (Question: "How big is your band?" Answer: "Sixteen musicians and a drummer.") Happily, that's no longer the case. During the past several months, I've reviewed numerous units led by drummers who have college degrees, who compose and arrange their own music, and who are affiliated with - and teach - at upper-level schools. Waldrop is in good company.
He was a member of the Grammy-nominated North Texas One O'Clock Lab Band; he has toured the U.S. and Europe with various groups; and he has played with numerous jazz icons and personnel. The big band here is impressive: five reeds, eight brass and a rhythm section of four, along with guest performers on some tracks.
All of these tracks are original compositions, half by Waldrop. Woodwind impresario Jack Cooper (who also fronts his own big band) wrote the others and masterfully arranged everything on the album. Everybody deserves mention, but I must acknowledge master guitarist and vocalist Jimi Tunnell, and vocalist Sandra Dudley; both contribute "no-word" shading on three tracks, using their voices as instruments, to back up the band's swinging instrumental passages. The result is impressive, and really adds to the impact.
This is a wonderful orchestra, filled with extremely talented artists. Want more proof? The entire album was completed in just one day!