Boss Brass Offspring Smaller But No Less Sophisticated.
Rob McConnell has a new band. And what, you might well ask, wrong with the old one, the redoubtably illustrious Boss Brass? Nothing that a few clubs with bigger music budgets couldn’t fix & work has been scarce for the 21 -piece jazz orchestra. So, without shutting the Boss Brass down, the Toronto trombonist and arranger now has fixed himself up with a tentet- as if a 10 piece band will be easier to sell.
Regardless of it’s employment prospects, the new group, which made it’s debut Monday night before a full house at the Montreal Bistro in Toronto, is a wholly likable proposition for it’s Kansas City swing and California colouring. Of course, in these early days, it will be compared to the Boss Brass. And the senior band which is coming up on it’s 30th anniversary next August, is surely a tough act to follow with both Grammy and Juno awards to stand for its achievements.
It’s not as though the two bands aren’t related. Six players, including the leader, are common to both, and while McConnell may be writing less per piece for the tentet, he is still setting out his arrangements with the skill and sophistication that have defined the fluid sound of the larger orchestra.
If there’s a significant difference, payroll aside, it’s the smaller band’s looseness and it’s potential for spontaneity. McConnell has always liked the effortless swing of the Count Basie Orchestra, and it was surely no mere coincidence that the first tune of the new band’s first set on its first night, The King, was drawn from the Basie repertoire. Nothing complicated here; the soloists were allowed plenty of room, (the horns line up seven abreast across the stage) chipped in the prompting riffs, and the rhythm section (pianist Mark Eisenman, bassist Steve Wallace and drummer Barry Elmes) kept everything moving on an easy roll.
McConnell reserved the fancier stuff – the buffed melodies and harmonies that immediately bring the Boss Brass back to mind – for tunes such as speak Low (adapted from an arrangement by Toronto bassist Neil Swainson), Lush Life and Ornithardy. Just as there have been times when the Boss Brass has sounded like at least 40 musicians, there were moments on Monday when the tentet sounded like a good 20.
There are however, no section players in the smaller band. Everyone involved is a soloist of some impact – Eisenman, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte and tenor saxophonists Alex Dean and Mike Murley stood out in this debut performance. Here, as with the Boss Brass in recent years, McConnell finds himself in the midst of musicians a generation his junior; in good humour he describes his role in the proceedings as that of “chaperone.” Truth is , though, he seems to be having the most fun of all.Globe and Mail, Fri Aug 7, 1998