CD REVIEW: John Fedchock New York Big Band – Like It Is

John Fedchock New York Big Band – Like It Is
(Mama MAA1048. CD Review by Peter Jones)

Trombonists seem to like taking charge of big bands and large ensembles – presumably because that’s where they spend nearly all their time. Recently in the UK both Tom Green and Patrick Hayes have produced albums which are not only accomplished but fresh and challenging.

Across the pond another trombonist, ex-Woody Herman arranger John Fedchock, has been at it for a lot longer than them: this is his fifth recording with the 16-piece New York Big Band - ‘a vital large ensemble inspired by tradition and innovation’, according to the publicity. The new album contains ten tunes, half old and half new, but all characterized by super-glossy playing and highly-polished production. Fedchock has succeeded in getting commissions for four of them from four different universities – quite an achievement, and surely very helpful with the album’s production costs.

All the new numbers are his original compositions. Although the title track swaggers along with familiar New York attitude, the melody just doesn’t emerge all that strongly. It’s the same story on the mid-tempo swinger Just Sayin’. It’s brash and confident, but sayin’ what exactly? Hair Of The Dog lurches through the mean streets in more convincing fashion, bassist Dick Sarpola and pianist Allen Farnham setting a suitably queasy tone ahead of a conventional solo from Fedchock and a slightly more hung-over one from tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf. Ten Thirty 30 is a faster, more angular piece with some edgy playing from Farnham and tenor saxophonist Rich Perry.

The non-originals begin with You And The Night And The Music, in which the arranger’s stated aim was to ‘mask the original structure’ of the tune, and its identity is indeed skillfully disguised behind a new coat of musical paint. The wistful ballad Never Let Me Go is a highlight, the leader playing most of the melody himself and soloing with great sensitivity. Cedar Walton’s Ojos De Rojo contains some fine brass flourishes and a great drums from Dave Ratajczak. Just Squeeze Me sets up a nice call-and-response between Scott Robinson’s doleful baritone sax and the rest of the horns.

In short, a pleasant album, a thoroughly professional album, with some fine moments, but there’s a shortage of the promised innovation, and one can’t help wishing John Fedchock had taken more risks.

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