With big bands, it's all about the arrangements. Those charts have to have that spark, as well as a depth and complexity. Then the solo slots -- those punctuating flights of improvisation -- have to soar, of course. They do here; they almost always do at this top level of musicianship; but it's the textures, the layerings, the eyebrow-raising counterpoints that make the set.
Gordon Lee and the Gleeful Big Band's Flying Dream bubbles over the top of the pot with superb arrangements.
It's all built on what came before. This set sounds like the child of a mating of a large ensemble Mingus effort, a la Mingus Mingus Mingus (Impulse!, 1963) and a Maria Schneider Orchestra sound, with the late great tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson Big Band CD (Verve, 1996) serving as a first cousin.
Especially noteworthy is pianist Lee's writing for the lower register -- bass trombone and baritone saxophone -- that adds a very satisfying "beef" to the musical stew he's concocted.
The soloists -- too many to mention -- cook throughout, by Gordon Lee (on piano) doesn't step out in front often enough; he is a succinct and authoritative instrumentalist, and a fine songwriter as well. Nine of the tunes are originals, from the bossa nova-ish "Wait for Her" and the soaring Maria Schneider-esque "Flying Dream," to the dark, churning, classical-sounding (Mahler?) "Bitter Wind," and into the Ellingtonian reed section sound on the one non-original, "Where or When."
Flying Dream is an engrossing listen, each spin revealing new layers of big band writing.