Monday, November 26, 2012


Walter White
The jazz trumpeter Walter White held the official album release show for “Breaking Good,” his big band’s new album, at the downtown Detroit jazz club Cliff Bell’s Sunday night. The album has been available for several months now, but that didn’t stop people from coming out to hear the most flammable jazz big band in Detroit. White built a name for himself outside of Detroit, his hometown, playing with the Dave Holland Big Band, the Mingus Dynasty, and the Maynard Ferguson Big Band. Last year, White returned to Detroit, and he has been about the business of winning over Detroit jazz fans.

Cliff Bell’s was packed. Surprisingly, the audience was attentive as the band played cuts from “Breaking Good” and a few new charts featured on White’s next album. Winning over Cliff Bell’s audience was a testament to what a downright killer big band White has. The club has been a serious hub for jazz, particularly for up-and-coming jazz musicians. Many of the club's patrons come to socialize. They talk during the set, and that's upsetting for the patrons who come for the music. The band had everybody’s attention on all the tunes the band played.

The band played  some vamps before tenor saxophonist Bobby Streng introduced White. White walked on stage with his trumpet and flugelhorn tucked under his arm. White is a big guy, and he was dressed like the fictional mob bass Tony Soprano in a made to measure sport jacket and a patterned sport shirt open at the collar. The first number White called “There Will Never Be Another You”. 

The band took off like the favored horse in the Kentucky Derby. In most big bands the emphasis is usually on the soloists. Clearly, White is the focal point of his big band, which is alright because he’s an enthusiastic trumpeter a la Lee Morgan, Dizzy Gillespie, and Freddie Hubbard. Plus, White is comfortable playing in the upper register of the trumpet. That’s where he pretty much stayed the entire set. 

In a local club, it’s rare for a local or a national act to get an ovation after the first set. That’s what White’s band got when the set ended. The audience roared like Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder of the Detroit Tigers hit back to back homers. The band's sound is high horse-powered swing. White's arrangement of  "Stella By Starlight" and "Nica's Dream" sounded as if he injected them with steroids. 

Obviously, White’s chops are perfectly suited for a big band environment. And his big band, which White named Small, Medium, @Large, reflecting how the band has grown since its started. The band is powered by some local sluggers, pianist Gary Schunk, who logged the most mileage Sunday night. White featured Schunk on every tune, and he played beautifully. White demanded a lot from drummer Jeff Trudell, too. 

Trudell was situated behind the brass section. So you couldn’t see him. But you could see sparks flying from his drum kit during his soloing. There’re some excellent solos from alto saxophonist Mark Kieme and tenor player Bobby Streng although you had to strain to hear them because their microphones weren’t as loud as White’s and Trudell’s microphones were.

Three tunes into the set, I wondered if, Paul, the owner of Cliff Bell’s had the Detroit Fire Department on standby. At any moment, it seemed the band was going to burn the club to the ground. The band was that flammable. It’s good to know there's a big band in town that's on par with the Dave Holland big band, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The challenge for White now is to find a club his band can work at regularly. Of course, given how explosive his big band is, the club has to be structurally sound.
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