Composer/arranger Phil Kelly has some first call help on his latest effort, including Pete Christlieb, Gary Smulyan and Bill Ramsey on woodwinds, Andy Martin and Jay Thomas on brass and pianist Pat Coil, but while they, and others in the ensemble, offer some fine solos, it's really Kelly's behind the scenes and front of the room work that's on display. Kelly leads a 16 piece big band, augmented by string programming by Matt Bennett, through a set of eight originals and a pair of standards. While big band music is often presented in a nostalgic setting, hearkening back to the glory days of the swing bands, Kelly brings it right up to date.
There's plenty of swing to be had, for sure, but there's also a strong dose of funk and a flair for the dramatic that reflects Kelly's extensive background in film and TV scoring, while the arrangements are disciplined in a way that reflects his 700+ soundtracks for national TV commercials. Kelly is the quintessential example of the composer whose work you're intimately familiar with, even if you've never heard his name.
Convergence Zone offers the opportunity to match the name with the music more directly, and Kelly deserves the attention. It's been over 30 years since he's written pure jazz (his last efforts being for Bill Watrous' big band in 1973), so there's at least a generation that's missed the firsthand experience of hearing new jazz from Phil Kelly. Whether you're one of those, or a fan forever, there's no excuse for missing this disc. It's the finest album of new big band jazz I've heard in years.