This is the way to kick off a new record label; assemble some of the strongest names in jazz and present an eclectic set of styles worthy of the stellar musicians that also sets the stage for what the label will be offering. Of course, this blueprint in one sense hearkens back to Alfred Lion and Blue Note wherein the ‘60s one often found essentially the same cast of musicians playing as both sidemen and bandleaders. Here on The Jazz All Stars, Vol. 1, however, many of these well-known names are playing together for the first time, belying the rather bland title name of the album. They are keyboardists Bill Cunliffe and John Beasley, bassists John Patitucci and Chris Colangelo, drummers Vinnie Colaiuta, Marvin “Smitty” Smith and Joe LaBarbera, percussionist Alex Acuna, trumpeters Terell Stafford and Wayne Bergeron, saxophonists Rick Margitza and Ralph Moore, guitarist Jake Langley and vocalist Andy James, among others.
Founder Peiro Pata is an Italian-Australia native is a world-renowned flamenco and ballet dancer who got to know and perform with many great jazz artists and eventually, after producing many dance performances for top companies, grew into a musical producer role as well. Pata worked with Cunliffe who served as informal musical director and in-house arranger for the wide breadth of material that ranges from originals to which well-known fare as “Caravan” and “Afro Blue.”
The first sounds one hears are the tantalizing percussive beats of Acuna leading into Beasley’s “Theme for FLOTUS,” which is dedicated to former First Lady and jazz fan Michelle Obama. The piece was written as the closing theme for “jazz at the White House,” the televised all-star performance held on International Jazz Day in 2016. Cunliffe follows with his big band chard for “Tu Wero Niu,” an ode to resilience written following a turbulent flight to New Zealand. Guitarist Langley, a veteran of Joey DeFrancesco’s Trio, teams with Beasley on Fender Rhodes for the soul-jazz groove of “Log Jammin’,” apparently drawn from a live performance.
Cunliffe again shows his arranging chops for the nine-piece joyous “There You Go,” his original. The brassy big sound then dissolves into an intimate but lively duo rendering of Patitucci and Acuna for the classic “Afro Blue” which is followed by another classic, Ellington’s “Caravan.” Cunliffe gives a modern reimagined arrangement for vocalist Andy James, a preview of sorts into her forthcoming Le Coq release Tu Amor. James brings a sensual vibe to the classic with big brassy support with turns from Margitza and Langley while Cunliffe, Patitucci, Acuna, and Colaiuta anchor the rhythm section. Cunliffe takes on another Ellington chestnut with his rousing big band arrangement of “Rockin’ in Rhythm” that features Moore soloing, a duo exchange between Patitucci and Colaiuta, horns rejoining in ensemble melting into a solo break from Cunliffe and then back before Colaiuta and Acuna bring it to a stirring climax. The closing “Avalon” is another Cunliffe arrangement, where Margitza’s soulful steady solo is followed by melodic turns from Langley and then the pianist who engages in dialogue with the guitarist before Margitza steps back in, bringing a bluesier feel to the piece before Cunliffe hits s stunning chord that emphatically closes both the piece and the album.
With this array of talent on hand, this is a can’t miss project, signaling that we can expect nothing but, as the label says, “honest jazz” going forward These performances and configurations set the stage for the label’s ambitious lineup of forthcoming releases from James, Margitza, and a new trio of Cunliffe, Patitucci, and Coliauta.