Pianist Earl MacDonald has assembled a seventeen-piece band (including himself) to whip through some aggressively swinging charts, mixing standards (“Woody’n You,” “Joshua”) and originals. MacDonald used to be the musical director for hurricane-like trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, and with that knowledge, the power of some of the arrangements becomes a little less surprising.

The disc’s opening track, “Friday Night at the Cadillac Club,” is so over-the-top it’s almost goofy; it sounds like a Brian Setzer Orchestra number, especially when the guitar solo comes in. The second piece, “Mr. Sunshine,” is substantially less aggressive, and more in the vein of the old Tonight Show band under Doc Severinsen. “Measuring Up” builds to a theme not unlike something out of a James Bond movie, swaying with an air of danger. The band swings through a kick-ass version of “Joshua,” radically different from the Miles Davis version (on Seven Steps to Heaven). The atmospheric ballad “Character Defect” is a softly humming exercise in restraint; in its middle section, during MacDonald’s tinkling piano solo, it’s weirdly reminiscent of the musical backing to Tom Waits’s spoken piece “9th & Hennepin,” from Rain Dogs. Surprisingly, given the way it began, Re:Works doesn’t end with a roaring outburst; instead, “Jana’s Song” simmers for eight minutes, with the final notes coming from an almost unaccompanied saxophone.

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of big band records. There’s too much unison playing; it reminds me of oarsmen chained in place on a slave ship in some old movie. But this one is pretty hot, mostly because MacDonald breaks it down to small group settings a lot, only bringing in the full ensemble for heads and accents.

Phil Freeman

1. Do I foresee myself listening to this record again? Very possibly.

2. Should you buy this record? If you like big band music, definitely.

Link to purchase, if you’re so inclined…

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