We're pleased to announce that our new album, A Beautiful Friendship, has been selected for inclusion in:
(1) jazz journalist Scott Yanow’s 25 Top Jazz CDs of 2014 (see full description here) and
(2) SDPB’s Top 40 Jazz Releases of 2014 (see full listing here)!
All of our recordings can be sampled at the Sound Gallery on our website and can be purchased at CD Baby or Amazon.com. Write a review if you like them!
Our most recent CDs, "A Beautiful Friendship" and "Kindred Spirits," are also available on iTunes.
A Beautiful Friendship (2014)
Our most recent project, adding legendary trumpeter Carl Saunders to the already formidable "front line" of featured soloists from our "Kindred Spirits" album, Bill Watrous (trombone) and Pete Christlieb (tenor sax). And a terrific big band highlighting the swinging, creative charts of Gary Urwin.
The three soloists play together in various combinations, and each of them is featured individually on solo numbers as well. Highlights include "Waltz for Debby," "Joy Spring," "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry," "Shaw 'Nuff," "Autumn Sojourn," "It Could Happen to You" and, of course, "A Beautiful Friendship." New on Summit Records.
Kindred Spirits (2006)
Our third project, featuring a "front line" of jazz solo legends Bill Watrous (trombone) and Pete Christlieb (tenor sax), with our band. Highlights include "Kindred Spirits," "Girl Talk," "Theme From 'Chinatown'," "Lester Leaps In" and "That Old Feeling." On Summit Records.
Living in the Moment (2003)
Our second endeavor, featuring Pete Christlieb, Rickey Woodard, Wayne Bergeron, Ali Ryerson, Kim Richmond, John Pisano, Christian Jacob and a Guest Appearance by Bill Watrous. Highlights include "Slow Boat to China," "East of the Sun," a four-way trumpet battle on "Colores del Fuego" and a ten-minute version of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" combined with Samuel Barber's "Adagio For Strings." (What was that arranger thinking?) On Sea Breeze Jazz Records.
Our initial outing, featuring the same cast of characters. Highlights include Freddie Hubbard's "Sky Dive," "Chucho," Wayne Bergeron's featured trumpet on "Beauty and the Beast," and "Stormy Weather" in 3/4 time. On Sea Breeze Jazz Records.
Liner Notes from "A Beautiful Friendship" CD
I’m a happy camper.
However you describe my role in connection with this project – as music arranger, producer, chief cook and bottle washer, or probably all of the above – the process of creating this album has been a tremendously fulfilling one. And that fact is due to the hard work and vision of dozens of dedicated professionals who contributed their talents, time and attention to our project, and who deserve far more credit than I. First and foremost, I extend a sincere thanks to each of them.
The direction we’re taking in our new album, A Beautiful Friendship, is to explore fresh new possibilities in the approach that we felt worked so well in our last album, Kindred Spirits. Kindred Spirits featured Bill Watrous (trombone) and Pete Christlieb (tenor sax) as frontline soloists, using charts written specifically for the occasion.
The new album again features these two monumental talents, Bill and Pete, as soloists. And to fill out the soloist lineup with the third wind instrument commonly seen in big bands, we’ve added an additional artist and friend, Carl Saunders, on trumpet. The three soloists play together in various combinations, and each of them is featured individually on solo numbers as well. A fourth, co-equal role is played by a terrific big band that I’m proud to call the Gary Urwin Jazz Orchestra.
In making the “trumpet addition,” we didn’t just settle for any trumpet player. Carl Saunders’ abilities and imagination on the instrument are stunning and virtuosic, yet always musical. He has wonderful solo ideas, lightness in the upper register, formidable technique in playing fast passages, yet a great lyrical sense as well. Carl also contributes two of his original compositions – Autumn Sojourn and Dear Mr. Florence (the latter a tribute to our departed friend and inspiration, Bob Florence, played movingly here by Pete Christlieb) – to the album.
In addition to his individual solos, Carl faced a task unique among the soloists, of playing two “trumpet battles” with other trumpeters from the band. All of the trumpet soloists came through with flying colors on these, as you will hear on Shaw ‘Nuff (Carl with Wayne Bergeron) and Joy Spring (Carl with Bobby Shew). And as to why Carl had two of these battles to do, while our other, non-trumpet soloists didn’t have any: let’s just say that if you're not a trumpet player, you'll never deduce a rational reason for this imbalance; and if you are a trumpet player, you don’t need one.
And of course, not enough good things can ever be said about our “returning” soloists, Bill Watrous and Pete Christlieb. They each fashion imaginative, classic solos that transcend “reading the changes” and make every solo a real musical composition in its own right. They, like Carl, are truly world-class masters of their respective instruments, and are playing better than ever in every style I can throw at them. Their versatile playing went “close to the edge” when that approach was called for, and went with a more comfortable, lyrical approach when that approach was called for. As I said in the liner notes to Kindred Spirits and reiterate here – our soloists (and now there are three of them) play with unparalleled virtuosity, but also with musicality, taste and above all, always a beautiful sound full of heart. There is nothing more inspiring!
Best of all, we discovered that “a beautiful friendship,” in addition to being the name of a great tune, is a phrase that truly and accurately describes the working relationship among the principals of this project. In preparing the album we had the added pleasure, once again, of genuinely liking and respecting one another. What a concept!
I could say more, but I believe that beyond this point the music should speak for itself. So in sum, we think the fates were with us and that we’ve created something really special in this album. How well we succeeded, we leave to you the listener.
We hope you enjoy A Beautiful Friendship.
Comments on "A Beautiful Friendship" From Friends of the Band:
"Combine the creative, swinging arrangements of Gary Urwin, and his first-class Los Angeles big band with three superb soloists, and the result is A Beautiful Friendship, a real gem. Trombonist Bill Watrous, tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb and trumpeter Carl Saunders are three of the greatest bop-based soloists in the world. Add to the set trumpeters Wayne Bergeron and Bobby Shew plus pianist Christian Jacob, and one has a CD that all straight-ahead jazz fans simply need to have." . – Scott Yanow, author of 11 books including The Great Jazz Guitarists, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Record 1917-76
Liner Notes from "Kindred Spirits" CD
A LABOR OF LOVE. It's an overworked phrase, but there's no better way to describe the dedicated work and positive energy of so many people who contributed their unique talents to this project.
I don't recall when the idea first came up of putting together these two of my favorite jazz soloists as a "front line," integrated with my big band and my "charts," or arrangements. But in retrospect it seems like an idea that was, in a sense, inevitable and overdue.
Long before I knew either Bill Watrous or Pete Christlieb, Bill's Tiger of San Pedro and Manhattan Wildlife Refuge albums used to keep me entranced for endless hours while driving back and forth to college on snowy two-lane highways in Ohio; then I'd arrive at college or home and watch Pete's mastery of every jazz idiom as the featured soloist on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Though both were very young men at the time, they seemed to have every jazz nuance and style mastered with grace, confidence, and class.
Fast forward a few years, through schooling, careers, and my becoming active as a jazz arranger in Los Angeles. During those years, Bill continued to win every Downbeat trombone poll for the better part of a decade; Pete's artistry graced countless studio sessions in L.A., including Natalie Cole's Unforgettable duet across the generations.
When I started recording with my own band in L.A., I was delighted that Pete said OK, he'd be in the band. Actually didn't just say "OK"; but, with his usual boundless optimism, said "Sure; when do we start?" I was subsequently fortunate enough to have Bill join us for a feature on our second album.
Then the pieces started to jell. It was time for these artists to record together, with the third, co-equal role to be played by a terrific big band (the one I modestly named after myself!). Bill and Pete were seasoned, distinctive voices in jazz, at the height of their game, and should be heard playing off of one another in the way that only a cohesive pair of jazz soloists can do. A joint focus album, with just enough trombone, just enough tenor, supported by the right charts with some fresh surprises to put the soloists and the band in the right spotlight, was a killer concept.
Pete and Bill enthusiastically agreed; so we met, picked tunes, told a few jokes, developed a concept and focus for the album, told a few more jokes, laughed and planned.
I wish I could say the ensuing part was hard work, but the charts and recording plans fell into place so effortlessly that it was nothing but fun. Friends and colleagues commented that I'd never turned out charts so quickly in a row, but each with the TLC I like to give each arrangement to try and ensure it says something worth saying. With Bill and Pete as soloists, all I had to do was provide the setting -- they did most of the saying for me. They play with unparalleled virtuosity, but with musicality, taste and above all, always a beautiful sound full of heart.
From the first rehearsal on, we found that the magic was there when we put all this together; egos dissipated and mutual respect prevailed. As they always do, Bill and Pete gave 110% -- all the time, no excuses, nothing less than their best. Add the likes of Bobby Shew on trumpet and Christian Jacob on piano for the few solos on the album in which we break up the trombone/tenor focus, together with the stellar lead trumpet of Wayne Bergeron and the rest of the band, and we had an abundance of riches. The front line soloists, the band and its arranger were and are, in every sense of the word, kindred spirits.
When we heard the playbacks, we all truly felt we'd captured something special on these tracks. From this side of the console, I can only tell you how pleased we were to dedicate our efforts to this project, and how much fun we had in creating it. Judging how the mixture came out we happily leave to you, the listener. Enjoy!
Comments on "Kindred Spirits" From Friends of the Band:
Gary has done it again. He has grown musically, is more daring and as always puts a band together of the finest. With Pete and Bill, you have a special icing on the cake, and it's a rich, satisfying cake.
Grammy Award-Winning Jazz Composer/Pianist/Bandleader of the Bob Florence Limited Edition
Here on his third CD, Gary Urwin continues to reveal his depth, understanding and feeling for large ensemble writing, coming forth with pieces that grab your ears. And Pete and Bill in the spotlight ain't too bad, neither.
Liner Notes from "Living in the Moment" CD
Gary Urwin's Perspectives, released in 2000, marked the debut of a gifted composer and arranger whose writing for an all-star, Los Angeles-area ensemble revealed depth, ebullience, sensitivity and class.
Boasting such numbers as the pulsating Latin/jazz groover, "Chucho" and the no-nonsense swinger, "Somebody Loves Me," Perspectives garnered solid reviews in magazines like Jazz Times, Jazz Journal and Cadence, received substantial airplay and brought deserved attention to a first-rate talent.
Urwin is back with Living In The Moment, an album that not only has all the qualities that made Perspectives so compelling but that also takes some bold, new strides, broadening the leader's viewpoint by stretching into fresh areas with dynamism and swagger. This is a solid, invigorating recording.
The Oberlin College graduate, who names Thad Jones, Bill Holman, Gerry Mulligan and Gil Evans among his influences, explains his philosophy here:
"I tried to select charts that were different, that would challenge the players and listeners, and that had something to say. I was looking for depth, substance and fun. I also wanted to take chances, sometimes writing as close to the edge as makes musical sense."
The jubilant "East of the Sun" is an ideal opener, and tenorman Pete Christlieb's impassioned solo is a delight. A brass-rich ensemble chorus, with a tiny nod to Johnny Carson's theme, leads to subdued, shimmering clusters surrounding Trey Henry's bass solo.
The invigorating, Latin-based "Colores del Fuego" (Colors of the Fire) is a showcase for the brilliant-toned trumpets of Ron King, Steve Huffsteter, Carl Saunders and Wayne Bergeron, who solo individually then simultaneously. Impressive. Later, the piece gets softer, a bit dissonant and spotlights percussionist Michito Sanchez before Kim Richmond's vibrant-toned alto solo.
The leader's "Sublimation" starts calmly, with low woodwinds and brass over an ambling jazz/rock beat. "I was trying to achieve a looser, small band feel," says Gary. Rusty Higgins' soprano improv is set over floating, cloud-like sound shapes that grow gradually more intense, leading to Christian Jacob's meaty piano solo. Frank Browne's fusion-tinged guitar is another pleasant surprise.
As legend has it, Frank Sinatra's rendition of "I'm a Fool to Want You" (including some of his own lyrics) reflected the singer's pain over his famously tempestuous marriage to actress Ava Gardner, thought to be the love of his life. Bill Watrous' buttery-toned trombone is a killer here. "It was the perfect voice to express the content of the song," says Urwin, who throughout uses selected dissonances to evoke the lyrics.
In contrast, "Slow Boat to China" is plain, swinging fun. Christlieb then Rickey Woodard are the dueling tenors on this rendition inspired by Sonny Rollins' early-1950s version. Jacob drops in another percolating piano solo.
Bill Evans' "Time Remembered" allows Urwin to interpret one of his favorite composers. "I was always struck by his vulnerability, the emotional beauty of his music," says Gary. That beauty is mirrored in Urwin's quietly gleaming orchestrations, as the density of the voices he uses paints a compelling aural portrait.
Jeremy Wall wrote "Little Linda" for the contemporary group Spyro Gyra, but Urwin handily fits it into his format. The number possesses choice orchestral passages; Richmond, on alto, delivers a juicy interpretation of the theme, followed by guest artist Ali Ryerson's inviting alto flute and Browne's guitar.
Urwin salutes Gerry Mulligan with his version of Mulligan's "Song for Strayhorn," a lyrical number that showcases Bob Efford's song-like baritone saxophone solo, David Shamban's winsome cello and Jacob in moving, unaccompanied moments.
The deft blending of portions of Samuel Barber's majestic "Adagio for Strings" with Billy Strayhorn's telling ballad, "Lush Life," exemplifies Urwin's desire to push boundaries. "These are both classics, from very different modes of music, but in a more fundamental way I felt that they have similar emotional content," notes the leader. "I tried to integrate them in a way that works with this instrumentation and within this idiom."
Urwin's cheerful bossa nova "For Liz and John" is for his children, in whom he takes great delight. Brass and reed swells dart in and around ace solos by flugelhornist Ron King, soprano saxophonist Rusty Higgins and guitarist John Pisano, who also plays rhythm guitar. "John adds a great feel," says Gary, "and the same can be said of the whole band."
"Outside Looking In" is another Urwin number with multiple flavors. The robust, motoring-along piece includes nugget-rich solos from trombonist Andy Martin and Christlieb, succulent orchestral writing amidst two Ralph Razze drum improvs and a pleasingly unresolved ending.
Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" is given a thorough workout by Urwin and company, going from a mellow Efford/ensemble melody reading to a medium-up band romp in 3/4 featuring Ron King, percussionist Sanchez and guitarist Browne. "I kind of messed with it a little," Gary laughs.
The apropos closer, leaving us in a refreshingly quiet place, is a tender duet on "East of the Sun" by Christlieb and Jacob.
Urwin has scored again with Living In The Moment. The way he sees it, his crew deserves most of the credit. "I have such great instrumentalists, and they have a wonderful group spirit," he says. "They're always an integral part of creating the music, which makes it different each time. My job was just trying to come up with something interesting to play."
That he did.
Contributor, Jazziz, Stereophile.
Comments on "Living in the Moment" From Friends of the Band:
Exceptionally creative charts, and they swing, too!
"AMERICA'S JAZZ DJ," KKJZ, LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA
It is such a treat to hear such lovely music played by so many of your friends. Gary's music utilizes a large tonal palette, and his musicians really deliver!
Grammy Award-Winning Jazz Composer/Pianist/Bandleader of the Bob Florence Limited Edition