To paraphrase the peerless Bard of Avon, a wind from any other clime would blow as hot -- or as cool. Last year, composer/arranger Phil Kelly happily introduced big band enthusiasts to the turbulent NW Prevailing Winds (Seattle) on the stormy album Convergence Zone; this year, he has empowered the cyclonic SW Santa Ana Winds (Los Angeles) to raise the barometric pressure and spawn another tempestuous tour de force, My Museum.
Knowing there would be no time for rehearsals, Kelly had to put together an "instant band" that could cook on cue and master his elaborate charts on the first (or second) go-round. With help from lead trumpeter Wayne Bergeron, that's exactly what he did. The Santa Ana Winds comprise an "A-list" of Los Angeles-area sidemen who could sight-read a phone book and make it interesting. Luckily for the listener, the "book" in this case consists of nine superlative arrangements by Kelly including five of his own compositions, a trio of seductive standards ("Daydream," "Body and Soul," "Lazy Afternoon") and Duke Pearson's Jazz paradigm, "Jeannine."
This is for the most part swinging, straight-ahead big-band Jazz of the highest caliber, from "Jeannine" to the boisterous finale, Kelly's flag-waving "Zip Code 2005." There are two departures�the ethereal ballad "My Museum," sweetly sung by Seattle's Greta Matassa (with a saccharine string section), and the funky, Latinized "Juan Beatov Stomp," which are placed back-to-back in the album's midsection. After listening several times I was able to decipher Marissa Dodge-Bartlett's lyrics to "Museum," but still can't understand them. You may have better luck than I. As for "Juan Beatov," he kind of grows on you, thanks in part to splendid solos by pianist Bill Cunliffe and guitarist Grant Geissman.
Speaking of solos, any bandleader can relax and grab some shut-eye after assigning those duties to such unerring craftsmen as Cunliffe, Geissman, trumpeters Bob Summers and Jay Thomas, alto saxophonist Lanny Morgan, tenors Pete Christlieb and Brian Scanlon, baritone Bill Ramsay or trombonist Andy Martin. Summers, one of my favorite underrated trumpeters, fires the opening salvo on "Jeannine," followed by Martin and Christlieb, and sparkles again with Scanlon and Martin on Kelly's contrapuntal, Bill Holman-like "Pleading Dim Cap" and alongside Christlieb on an upbeat version of Ellington/Strayhorn's "Daydream."
Cunliffe strides securely into Kelly's slow-walking tribute to the most uncommon Monk, "Bluelonious," with other meaty solos by Morgan and Thomas (like Ramsay, an import from Kelly's Seattle-based NW Prevailing Winds). Ramsay's spellbinding showcase, Johnny Green/Ed Heyman's "Body and Soul," is another of the many highlights, while "Lazy Afternoon," a curiously overlooked John LaTouche/Jerome Moross treasure from the Broadway musical The Golden Apple, enfolds a superb arrangement by Kelly around candid statements by Cunliffe and Geissman. The buoyant "Zip Code 2005," which began life as "Zip City" and was recorded by Bill Watrous and the Manhattan Wildlife Refuge in 1973, wraps the package neatly with solos to match by Morgan, Martin and Thomas.
For a studio date that was, in Kelly's words, "straight gonzo" (that is to say, largely spontaneous), My Museum contains one fascinating exhibit after another, and the SW Santa Ana Winds are as brisk and invigorating as a sheltered oasis in the midst of a burning desert.