My admiration and belief in McClure as a musician, composer, and interpreter goes back to the mid 70's when he brought a band, Featherstone, into Open Mike, and I started booking them immediately. At our place, Victory Hall on 6th in Tacoma, we had a battered old upright that McClure would play before the show (where he used an electric keyboard) with his incredible knowledge of stride, bop, blues, Tatum, and so much more. Not too much later, I was able to put him in touch with Parnell's, the major jazz club that came between the Penthouse days and Jazz Alley. McClure became the house pianist for scores of major players on tour. The rest is history. So now McClure is in his 70's with an incredible career of recording, playing, composing, arranging, and teaching in school, colleges, and festivals, and has a book on improvisational theory. The last couple of years, he has been living in and playing around the Palm Springs area and he is still pushing envelopes, doing incredible new things. This latest endeavor, he calls "MY BIG PROJECT." Many may not know that Barney McClure is a superb Hammond B-3 organ player and arranger. Anyone who has seen him on this instrument has had a special treat. Now McClure has teamed up with the Central Washington University Band.
The arrangements and a lot of the inspiration for the project are from Phil Kelly. The production was handled by Kelly, David Lange, and McClure. Lang also did the mixing and some of the work with the overdubs. Central Washington has a superb tight university band that is directed by Chris Bruya. The sixteen students really came to the plate here, along with McClure and with the percussion work of Jeff Busch on two cuts. So maybe step outside your knowledge of McClure, or Hammond B-3 organs, or big band music, and take yourself on an entirely new adventure. "Show Me" lets you know right off the top that this is a tight effort, and they command the big sound. Arrangements and execution are tight and swing the walls off. The band falls in behind McClure easily as McClure voices with the band and then solos. McClure talks and you can feel the band pick up the movement and swing as he commands the Hammond B-3 organ. The instrument has a natural bluesy emphasis, but he delivers jazz in a high note jump off and then is able to go down and work that fluid growl in the low end. The band is there, full and swinging. There are both strong bursts from McClure and from the band as they complete the solid arrangement. "Hookin' It" is by Pete Christlieb and it is his arrangement on his tune (all the rest are arranged by Phil Kelly). McClure has bluesy riffs and brings on the heat as the band begins driving underneath. Solos by Central Washington University Jazz band are strong throughout. Musicians are given plenty of room to explore and develop their solos, not a quick shot and out. Owen Evans has a solid alto voice, both in tone and ability to swing and push the momentum. McClure's organ rumbles underneath. The band comes out and swings and releases back to more Evans solo work. Then McClure takes over with the Hammond B-3 singing, driving, and delivering that organ growl. The sound here and a couple other places reminds me of the Count Basie sounds of the mid 1950's, when Joe Williams was with the band. There is that very bluesy feeling that the Hammond B-3 Organ brings to the table. Like Basie, both Christlieb here and Kelly elsewhere, get that bluesy drive that lifts the singer or, in this case, the Hammond B-3 to another level. Very good mixing of the sound on this cut particularly. This is really dancing jive with McClure and the band taking it out.
"Think Again" has a Latin band beat with blues overtones. Beserat Tafesse on trombone is able to team with McClure and make these two somewhat similar sounding instruments work together. Brian Lawrence's tenor solo is solid; he brings a relaxed solo line to the tune. Skyler Floe's trumpet has rapid lines, clear and solid punctuation. The bass of Ryan Donnelly works well behind the bite of the trumpet here. Band works well with the Latin percussive sound, as the band really digs in and takes over the last quarter of the tune. "Horace Toccato" written by the arranger on this CD, Phil Kelly has the blues based piano of Drew Medak opening this venture into Louisiana boogie. Then McClure brings his lower, growling voice and drives the blues style. You can almost hear Ray Charles singing on this. They release to a band swinging line, then back to the down home voice of McClure and the Hammond. The band begins dancing the crisp, tight, singing-out swing, and then back into the boogie blues lines. Drums of Taryn Zickefoose and bass of Donnelly work this well, and again Tafesse's trombone work makes a warm, modern kind of Bill Harris mood at first, then bites down for a more of Teagarden/Trummy Yong sound. Band roars back and really drives the blues boogie feel, and give a very Count Basie-like finish.
"Willow Weep for Me" is done almost with a swinging bop head with the band and McClure talking back and forth. Skyler Floe's trumpet is tight, with quick notes and a swing movement. He has plenty of room to develop. The rhythm fills behind and the band develops sounds and voices to enhance. Then McClure quietly swings the B-3 with clusters of rapid notes, blues driving tones, and is able to emphasize the notes and movement of the piece. I like the trades and exchanges on this. "Tick Tock" has the bass opening with a touch of the McClure B-3. Band develops these little bursts in a very Basie like approach. Alex Worland develops a strong tenor line, and Floe again has a solid trumpet run. Really nice voicings with the and and McClure. McClure's sound and tone are super, and the band is really working the arrangements. One of my favorite cuts, "Top Flight Pete vs. The Trav Ski," is another original by arranger Phil Kelly. He has the band in a high-speed swing mode and brings McClure to the forefront with a tight little cluster of notes. Then the quieter piano brings a very interesting contrast to the McClure organ line. I was very drawn to the trades of piano and organ and the way they fed off each other. Simpson on alto and Lawrence on tenor have solid solos, with clean drum trades with the band from Taryn Zickefoose. Great finish out and work by the full band.
"Slow Boat to China" is a classic tune and gives McClure some showtime with the Hammond B-3 organ with warm, well-stated lines. The band is quiet backing McClure as he states the head. The band understates the song and lets the organ and McClure ride on top. The band builds to an exclamation along the way, and then McClure takes off on a mid-tempo swinging ending of this seldom done classic. Lots of room here for McClure and the band to work off each other. McClure penned "Spot" and opens soloing with lots of room and chances for you to hear his gifts and control of the Hammond B-3. Again, the piano and organ work nicely off each other and make a sound I would like to hear more of someday. The band and McClure do a call-and-response arrangement. McClure's solo is in the swinging mood of the old "Huckle Buck" type sounds of the 40's and early 50's of folks like Buck Clayton. The band builds big voicings as McClure swings it from underneath. Solos by Evans, Tafesse, Medak, and Donnelly all work well. McClure penned "Schizo Blues." This is an upbeat tune with complex, quick, bop-like lines by McClure. The band builds in, and we get the conga work of Jeff Busch. This is a nice Latin pulse with some lyrical tenor moods, some squeezing alto sounds and then the band takes their lyrical ammo and builds behind their solos. They get a hard swing drive as McClure drives the organ. Both the band and McClure are on fire going out on this last track. Superb big band music. And to have an unusual Hammond B-3 organ as the focus instrument with super execution by McClure, the big band, and the arrangements is special in the industry. It all fell into place in a strong musical presentation.
Not many times in your life will you come across such an unusual and quality package where a big band and organ join forces. Kudos to all involved and to Origin for picking it up and issuing it.