Recorded several years ago, in late 2002, Home of My Heart sounds as if it could have been -- were it not for its handful of latter-day charts by eighties pop supernova Christopher Cross and film composer John Williams -- recorded several decades earlier. The prevailing sound is classic big band, delighting in the force of its multitudes while consistently spotlighting its individual soloists.
Walden, who first made a name for himself in Europe writing for the German National Youth Jazz Orchestra and later shopped his talents around Hollywood, conducts this large ensemble confidently and with no small amount of verve. This is evident from the get-go, with a rousing, deceptively intricate arrangement of the Ray Noble standard "Cherokee." Walden steers his ensemble through twists and turns, rises and falls, starts and stops. Once the listener has come to grips with the multiple melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic lines of the piece, Jeff Driskill steps to the fore to deliver a blisteringly fast sax solo. He's soon followed by the equally nimble Kye Palmer on trumpet. It's an excellent showcase for Walden's talents as arranger and conductor, as well as those of the performers.
Yet this strong start doesn't even last into the next track, Christopher Cross' "Rainy Day in Vancouver." Nothing, not even Bob Sheppard's lengthy sax solo, dares to move past the safe and formulaic. A more complex and challenging treatment might have explored different moods or shades of the original; but this is little more than limp dentist office muzak. Following this, the tripartite "Film Noir" begins like a swinging gameshow theme tune; only in its second part does it hint at something more shadowy. The third is almost a Naked Gun-style genre parody.
Dave Gruisin's "Mulholland Falls" gets a fine, ever-shifting treatment, and Charlie Haden's "Here's Looking at You" is sensual and sultry. But then we come to the questionable inclusion of the Star Wars theme. It opens with a feisty jazz guitar solo and parts of it are sufficiently distanced from the orchestral version, but it doesn't quite work as a song in its own right. However the arrangement dresses it up or twists it around; whether the approach is camp humor or in earnest, it still conjures images of intergalactic battle between good and evil.
The latter half of the disc, mostly standards done with taste (Tierney Sutton lends her sugar-sweet vocal to "How Long Has This Been Going On?") and a thoroughly enjoyable title track penned by Walden himself, redeems the majority of its failings and head-scratching moments. And there's the rub: Home of My Heart is palatable, middle-of-the-road stuff that occasionally dazzles in spite of itself. The adventurous forays into more modern styles made by the likes of Stan Kenton aren't in evidence, which is disappointing given Walden's diverse career composing for films and TV. He can be credited with keeping the flame of big band burning, but his approach here is more likely to spark a revival than a renaissance.