Scott Yanow's liner notes to An Old Soul
sketch a quick survey of contemporary big bands, observing that, in this era of drastically diminished returns in the jazz world, big band leaders are increasingly drawn from studios and academia, making performer-leaders (Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, later Buddy Rich) rare to non-existent. Arranger-led big bands may make for groups that reflect one person's unique vision and art, but they don't allow for the appeal of a flashy and charismatic soloist.
The Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra is mostly consistent with that observation: Bandleaders Mark Buselli and Brent Wallarab both hold down jobs in jazz studies on the university level and both arrange the majority of charts for their band. But they're also performers - Buselli on trumpet and flugelhorn, Wallarab on trombone - and if neither hogs the spotlight, they at least give the band a distinct personality, an author to associate with the tale.
Buselli is given ownership of An Old Soul
because he wrote all the charts, but it remains a project by the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra as a whole, with Buselli as featured soloist on only three of the eleven tracks. Three originals, including the title track (dedicated to Buselli's late golden retriever), accompany arrangements of Antonio Carlos Jobim ("If You Never Come To Me"), Billy Strayhorn ("Chelsea Bridge") and Charles Mingus ("Fables of Faubus").
For better or worse, Buselli is fond of melody, never straying too far from the theme, never venturing unnecessarily into dissonance, never overtly challenging his band's technique (which is pretty much unassailable, as the band proved with the speedy be-bop on their collection of David Baker tunes, Basically Baker
). Buselli's preference for the flugelhorn, which has a mellower and breathier tone than its kissing cousin, the trumpet, is of a piece with his work as an arranger and songwriter, which has a relaxed, unhurried feel, and a sense of balance that's absent, for instance, the kind of high-note fireworks that one might hear from a trumpeter.
It's that moderate stance that takes the edge out of a piece like "Fables of Faubus," with the crunch, physicality and occasional dissonance of Mingus' original lost in a too pretty, too restrained reading. But it works perfectly for tunes like "If You Never Come To Me," which has much of the cool of Jobim, with vocalist Kelleen Strutz admirably tossing off the first lines in Portuguese, or the gently swinging original "135 B. Chiswick," which features Buselli's flugelhorn gently gliding up and down the changes.