Dave Glenn's National Pastime celebrates two of America's cultural institutions: baseball and jazz. While both are intrinsically identified with the United States, they are not often found together. [How about Dave Frishberg?...Ed.] Glenn's project is a tribute to players past and present; a love letter to the game; it honors the fans and ballparks where they congregate to watch the smack of the ball; and in the process the album venerates camaraderie.
The eight tracks do not interpret well-worn baseball tunes: listeners will not find "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," "Casey at the Bat" or "Walk of Life." Rather, Glenn has written cohesive and compelling originals that stand on their own as well as offer testament to the what many consider the greatest game of all.
The concept formed in 2006 when Glenn took a spring sabbatical from his position as director of jazz studies at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. Instead of taking a cruise or sitting at home composing, Glenn attended 18 major league baseball games in 19 days at six ballparks. Initially Glenn meant to keep a journal of his travelling and submergence into being a short-term super-fan. But Glenn was inspired when he got back to Walla Walla and wrote two tunes as soon as was possible. His plan was to create a jazz suite he could then record with New York musicians he knew from the 11 years he lived in the Big Apple. The project was inevitably delayed, though, and it wasn't until the early 2008 death of a close friend - bassist Dennis Irwin - that Glenn ended his procrastination.
Glenn's six-member band includes veteran trumpeter Dave Scott, tenor saxophonist Rich Perry, and a firm rhythm section consisting of bassist John Hebert, drummer Jeff Hirschfield and pianist Gary Versace. The group hits a home run right at the start of the hour-long set with the title track, a multicolored cut that evokes the sights, sounds and excitement of going to a big league game. The spicy Latin-shaded bridge brings to mind big plastic mugs of beer and steamy hot dogs but is also a homage to the many great Hispanic players. Scott reels out a scintillating solo, followed by an earthy Perry sax solo that calls forth the smell of freshly mown grass and meticulously swept base lines. Versace follows with a plucky keyboard gambit that works well against Hebert's soulful bass.
Glenn gets down to specific details about his baseball vacation on "Roberto Clemente Bridge," which is partly a tribute to one of baseball's important heroes and also describes the walk Glenn took when he visited Pittsburgh's PNC Park to see a Pirates game. The bridge separates the stadium from the city's downtown area. The august piece has a suitable Latin slant that imparts the sportsmanship and charity of the late outfielder and is highlighted by Versace's noble piano chordings, rhythmically rich underpinnings by Hebert and Hirshfield, Perry's spirited sax, and Scott's higher register trumpet. Glenn showcases his cool, cultured tone near the finish line, providing a graceful closing solo.
Other baseball icons also get eulogized and lauded. "The Hammer" is an accolade to Henry "Hammerin' Hank" Aaron; there is a blues dedicated to Buck O'Neil; and "Lost in the Sun" depicts a significant moment during Grady Sizemore's 2005 season.
The intercommunication between Scott and Perry is a prominent part of the mid-tempo swinger "The Hammer," which also adds soprano saxophonist Jim Clouse to the mix. Hebert chips in a pendulant bass monologue, Glenn steps up to the plate with a mindful solo, and guest Clouse closes the cut with a stimulating solo offering.
"Blues for Buck O'Neil" is an affectionate acknowledgment of the life of the inspiring long-time Kansas City first baseman, manager, and coach. The arrangement has an ambling movement akin to a player jogging around the bases after a high hit over the back wall. Versace displays a sauntering style similar to Vince Guaraldi, while Glenn furnishes one of his best solos; Hebert once again demonstrates why he's been a go-to guy for Steve Lehman, Frank Calberg and many others.
"Lost in the Sun" recounts a September 2005 game when the accomplished Cleveland Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore lost a fly ball in the sun in the 9th inning, a decisive instance that contributed to a game loss. The bustling post-bop boiler is the album's most fast-paced piece and aptly illuminates the dread any athlete might feel when dropping the ball, missing the putt, or throwing an interception. Perry, Scott, and Glenn mass their horns on several outstanding unison lines, while the rhythm section goes all out.
The most heartfelt tune is "Reliving the Glory Days," which began as a reflective ode to the Kansas City Royals' renowned run of games from 1978 to 1985. But it morphed into a reverent memorial to Glenn's former roommate, friend and fellow musician Dennis Irwin, who passed away in January 2008. Hirshfield makes skillful use of his cymbals and brushes, Hebert renders a meditative bass endeavor, and the horn players all supply moving performances.
Due to educational commitments, Dave Glenn is not as active on the jazz scene as he was earlier in his career. But with efforts like National Pastime it's a good bet that whenever he finds the opportunity to be on stage or can put more of his compositions onto tape it will be worth listening to.