Pete McGuinness – Strength in Numbers (2014)

There is a serious big band push to Strength in Numbers, the new disc from the Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra. The Grammy-nominated composer, arranger, trombonist, and vocalist fronts an impressive group of New York players and sinks every ounce of his creative impulse into the material, delivering a set of music that seamlessly explores countless tones and textures.

“I think of Strength in Numbers as both a next step as well as a return to my roots,” McGuinness says. “I’m a melodist who grew up loving the great post-swing era…I can now straddle the old and the new, keeping one foot in what I’ve always loved … and one foot striding forward.”

That stride forward lives in some truly captivating places, as Strength in Numbers confirms. While the band often swings for the fences, it also brushes with slight colours under the powerful thrust of lead players like McGuinness, tenor saxophonist Dave Pietro or pianist Mike Holober.

Strength in Numbers starts with “The Send-Off.” The piece shapes from a bouncy melody and grows outward, with drummer Scott Neumann providing some flavour. Holober picks up on the shrewder moments of McGuinness’ composition, which is presented in memory of Kansas City’s Bob Brookmeyer.

“The Swagger” is another example of this group’s intricacy and flare. While it opens with a glorious blare of “dressed to the nines” brass, the piece soon enough settles in to an exceptional groove that provides a stage for some melodic exploration. Dave Reikenberg settles into a muscly solo on baritone saxophone, while Jeff Nelson follows through on bass trombone.

McGuinness is obviously a big part of this recording, with his trombone and vocals fleshing out the finer points of his composition. His trombone is at the core of the aptly-titled “Bittersweet,” where it laces through a graceful and yet energetic set of phrases.

The trotting, brassy and bold “Nasty Blues” is a rollicking highlight. Filled with big splashes and wild soloing, including a crackerjack alto sax routine from the Massachusetts-born Dave Pietro, this is a tune that makes great use of McGuinness’ sense of adventure.

Strength in Numbers really does stride forward, even as it explores the traditions of post-swing and big band. McGuinness’ gift is in crafting tunes that seem broad and personal at once and his orchestra is just the ticket for bringing his dynamic, stirring and unique compositions to beautiful life.

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Jordan Richardson

Jordan Richardson is a Canadian freelance writer and ne'er-do-well. He also contributes to his own Canadian Cinephile and Canadian Audiophile websites. Contact Something Else! Reviews at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.

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