There is nothing like some good big band music to shake us loose from these stressful times. John Wasson’s Strata Big Band delivers some excellent original material, as well as some well-chosen covers. The album opens with an original number titled “Heat-Seeker,” which has some bright, exciting playing and a good deal of swing, and features fantastic stuff from Pete Clagett on trumpet and Jeff Robbins on tenor saxophone, over a delicious rhythm. I particularly love that work on drums at the end. That’s followed by “Funk City,” another original piece by John Wasson. As its title promises, this is a funky number, with Eric Hitt’s great bass work standing out. Noel Johnson delivers some wonderful stuff on guitar, and that lead by Chris Beaty on tenor saxophone feels like that giant heart of this track. So is a whole lot of fun. Then “Señor Salsa” features a totally delicious percussion section toward the end. That’s followed by a moving and warm rendition of Jiggs Whigham’s “Bodge,” which features some wonderful, soulful work by Dave Butler on trombone. This disc also features an exciting, lively rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Blues For Alice,” featuring the trombone section. But probably the coolest of all this album’s tracks is “Tank!” From that work on bass at the beginning, it’s clear this track is something special. Apparently, this is the theme to an anime show. It is great fun, and that lead by Bruce Bohnstengel on alto saxophone is absolutely fantastic. The album concludes with another cool track, “The Detective Chronicles,” an original piece that creates its own atmosphere and characters, taking us along on a ride as a detective does his work. Suddenly in the middle of the action comes a pretty, though brief, solo on piano. And then, bam, we are right back in the chase. Then that section with saxophone and drums is one of my favorite parts of this entire disc. So good! This album was released on May 20, 2022.-Michael Doherty’s Music Log
Chronicles – John Wasson’s Strata Big Band
John Wasson is an award-winning composer, arranger, performer and conductor whose works have been performed by world-class orchestras and performers world-wide!
Chronicles offers intense swing, infectious funk and driving clave, lush ensemble sonorities, sensitive solo showcases and fresh, reimagined classics!
“The evolution of a composer/arranger is a life-long journey. Those achieving excellence have dedicated their lives to the process, using every newly acquired skill to highlight the next episode in their musical timeline. John Wasson’s Chronicles is a perfect illustration of this axiom, with pieces mined from his seasoned writing career that present like chapters from a well-crafted biographical novel.
Chronicles takes the listener through a myriad of styles set through the big band prism, with a program moving from intense swing, infectious funk and driving clave, to lush ensemble sonorities, sensitive solo showcases and freshly reimagined classics, all culminating in a programatic multi-movement tour de force. This album not only showcases top professionals with impressive ensemble skills, but also a group containing some very personalized and expressive solo voices. And those voices seamlessly meld with the fabric of John’s writing, exemplifying the true definition of a jazz orchestra.”
Bruce Bohnstengel – Soprano Sax, Alto Sax, Flute
Tim Ishii – Alto Sax, Flute
Jeff Robbins – Tenor Sax, Flute, Clarinet
Chris Beaty – Tenor Sax, Flute, Clarinet
Michael Morrison – Baritone Sax, Bass Clarinet
Keith Jourdan – Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Miles Johnson – Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Jack Evans – Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Pete Clagett – Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Tony Baker – Trombone
David Butler – Trombone
Chris Seiter – Trombone
John Wasson – Bass Trombone
Noel Johnston – Guitar
Paul Lees – Piano, B-3 Organ
Eric Hitt – Acoustic and Electric Basses
Mike Drake – Drums
Mike Medina – Percussion
A grad of one of Woody Herman’s later thundering herds, he might have to take to Kickstarter to get his records made but when the results are this sweet, it’s a good things there’s enough geezers that are computer literate enough to want to keep this sound alive and well. Other than the vibe, Wasson is not one to marinate in the good old days as the playing here is forward thinking and full of vigor. Just what the big band fan is looking for. Hot.
-Chris Spector for Midwest Records
Bass trombonist John Wasson leads a 17 piece big band through a collection of his originals mixed some covers on this satisfying and bold album. The unit swings like Basie, with some hot solos by trumpeter Pete Clgett and tenor saxist Jeff Robbins on “Heat-Seeker” , with the brass shining brightly on “Senor Salsa”. The trio of trombonists David Butler, Paul Birk and Tony Baker slide through a snappy read of Charlie Parker’s “Blues For Alice” with bold strokes supporting Bruce Bohnstengel’s alto sax on a bright take of “Maria” The horns sound like the Famous Flames for “Funk City” featuring Noel Johnston’s rocking guitar, and the horns team up to form the Rat Pack on the B-movie special “The Detective Chronicles”. Rich and colorful paint brushes fill the canvas.
That big, beautiful swell of excitement and glory that a big band brings to music is magical. This album opens with that kind of energy on “Heat-seeker.” The horns make a bright, tightly harmonized exclamation mark. Then they crawl up the scale, offering their melody to my attentive ears and totally grabbing my attention. Pete Clagett is featured on a brilliant trumpet and Jeff Robbins soars on his tenor saxophone solo. John Wasson has composed and arranged this piece of music. It’s melodic and cheerful. In fact, he offers four original compositions to this delightful album, out of the nine songs in the big band’s recorded repertoire. The bandleader’s song, “Funk City” exhibits that kind of funky energy, driven by the powerful drums of Mike Drake. Chris Beaty is fluid and stellar on tenor saxophone. And is that John Wasson on the bass trombone, dancing beneath the rhythm like a bassist? I love this arrangement. On “Senor Salsa” (another Wasson composition) the band will make you want to move and dance. The musicians do a bang-up job of interpreting “Maria” from the popular West Side Story score. I was eager to hear their arrangement of “Blues for Alice” by Charlie Parker. I wasn’t disappointed in the least. They fly through the arrangement on the wings of ‘straight-ahead jazz’ featuring three trombonists who solo like preening birds; David Butler, Paul Birk and Tony Baker. The Yoko Kanno tune, “Tanki,” features Paul Lees on his organ and Bruce Bohnstengel strutting his stuff on alto saxophone, utilizing the entire range of his instrument. It opens with the bass of Eric Hitt setting the mood and the quick tempo. There are some smart tempo changes in this arrangement that call the listener to attention. John Wynn’s “Song for Kate” is ethereal and dances along at a moderate pace. It’s refreshing to hear Noel Johnston step into the spotlight on his guitar and the Robbins’ flute darts above the rich orchestration like a narcissistic bird, singing sweetly, look at me. Look at me! Mike Drake is given several bars to show-off his drum skills. On this final tune, “The Detective Chronicles” written by Wesson, was inspired by 1960 television shows. I remember the Peter Gunn series around that time. That was the first show I ever heard jazz featured as background music. There is surprise and drama in this Wesson arrangement.
Here is an album of smart arrangements and incredible energy, sparked by the talented musicians who play the music. John Wesson, composer, arranger, bandleader and extraordinary musician describes this project in his own words. I found them quite succinct, humble and honest…
First off, I never heard of John Wasson before, but the Big Band tag helped me with a decision to dive into listening. The criteria applied was easy: I started liking big band music after a really nice musical performance during a junior high school assembly back in Oakland. That’s a looong time ago. I was so delighted with the broad range of music I found all based from Texas!
Things were also helped with the inclusion of a great booklet which provided a historical background of John Wasson and his work. Great to write about this stellar collection of music, but I shall not plagiarize, so being lazy, I will quote directly: “John Wasson is an award-winning composer, arranger, performer and conductor whose works have been performed by world-class orchestras and performers world-wide! …Chronicles offers intense swing, infectious funk and driving clave, lush ensemble sonorities, sensitive solo showcases and fresh, reimagined classics!” I cannot agree enough.
The ensemble Wasson has mobilized into his Strata Big Band includes many, many teachers and professors of music. The musicians are all recognized and listed in the accompanied booklet, which is also available on the band’s website. Foundational is, of course, a big band sound that travels several genres and brings the joy of a wall of sound. This summer I attended two live concerts by Arturo O’Farril’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra in New York, which bolstered my lean towards big bands whatever its genre. And the Strata Big Band satisfies that need.
So let’s break down some selections without dissing the other numbers.
“Heat-Seeker,” composed by Wasson, kicks off with a high energy horn introduction that flows like a mellow running river with fine solos; “Funk City,” also composed by Wasson, and is offered as a “shoutout to a well-known Bay Area funk band.” No mention is made of that particular band, but speaking as an Oakland CA native, that has got to be props to the hallowed virtuosity of Tower of Power, Y’all! “Tank!” is by Japanese composer Yoko Kanno as the title theme for Cowboy Bebop anime series (the first time I’ve learned of this) and arranged by Wasson. I found in that number a flowing closeness with John Wasson’s closing number “Detective Chronicles” capturing the sonic feel delivered by the horns of old school TV detective (and spy) shows and movies — remember “Peter Gunn”/”Batman”/”Dick Tracy”/Mission Impossible” — and settles into a smooth tension punctuated by horns.
Other listeners may find that the other numbers — Wasson’s arrangements of Charlie Parker’s “Blues for Alice,” and West Side Story’s “Maria,” are just as inspiring as there is no intention of dismissing the remainder. Go for this album if a muscular wall of sound posited by a big band is something for you!