It’s been seven years since the last big band album from composer/arranger Chris Walden, the Kurt Marti Suite for big band and choir—much too long. But if it takes waiting that long for an album as fine as the newly released Full-On!, how can you complain? Los Angeles based Walden has busied himself conducting and arranging for artists as diverse as Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, Diana Krall and Rihanna, and a raft of others, so many, in fact, that he has any time left to work on a big band recording is remarkable in and of itself. Full On! is worth the wait.
Gathering an impressive cast of studio musicians and guest vocalists, Walden leads them through a set of a dozen numbers showcasing tight ensemble work spiced with creative solos. At times the band’s sound is retro with a modern touch, at times modern with a retro touch. Walden talks about the influence of Neal Hefti on his work. It is an influence that comes through loud and clear, although he also credits Sammy Nestico, Thad Jones and Bob Brookmeyer.
Walden’s “Bailout,” a Basie-esque original, is the album’s dynamic opening number. It is followed by “I Can Cook Too,” culled from Broadway’s On the Town, with a retro vocal from Melanie Taylor. Taylor shows up again later for a swinging arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke.” Courtney Fortune does a jazzy vocal on “Lost in the Memory,” a collaborative effort written with Walden. Other Walden originals include “Gatsby” which features the trombone work of Alex Wiles and the bass of Kenny Wild, “Bada Bamba,” a samba showcasing the bass-trombone of Bill Reichenbach, and “Arturo,” an exciting vehicle for guest Arturo Sandoval on the flugelhorn and Brandon Fields on tenor sax.
“If I Only Knew” is a distinctly modern sound for Dorian Holley, while the classic “Only the Lonely” gets a noir vibe from Tierney Sutton. Carol Weisman does a perky version of “Hey Good Looking.” “Out of Town” is a wild romp driven decisively by drummer Ray Brinker, with tenor sax solos from Fields and Rob Lockart. The album concludes with Siedah Garrett taking on the Christopher Cross hit, “Ride Like the Wind.”
An album to savor, one can only hope it won’t take another seven years for another.