July 8, 2019. When trombonist, vocalist, and bandleader Pete McGuinness was growing up in West Hartford, Connecticut, he wanted to be Duke Ellington. So it’s probably no coincidence that with the release of his third big band album, Along for the Ride, McGuinness shows a musical sensibility that mirrors the Duke’s.
Part jazz conservative, part jazz progressive, McGuinness—in a very Ellingtonian way—has made a big band album that deftly walks the tight rope of celebrating the traditional modes of swing-era big band jazz while simultaneously presenting music that nods to, winks at, and ultimately transcends the musical concepts of that era.
Along for the Ride’s opener illustrates this perfectly. “Put on a Happy Face” is just the kind of hokey, anodyne Broadway tune that jazz musicians have long used as proving-ground repertoire. The unspoken thought: the more ostensibly corny or pollyannish the tune, the more legit the jazz musician who can distill that corn into moonshine, who can transform the whimsical into the emotionally profound and, most importantly, into something cool.
Miles with “Surrey with a Fringe on Top,” Coltrane with “My Favorite Things,” Chet Baker’s takes on Lerner and Loewe, Sonny Rollins’s re-imagination of the Irving Berlin songbook. The list is nearly inexhaustible.
Like a rebellious Bar Mitzvah boy, McGuinness participates in this rite of passage by presenting a “…Happy Face” eager to ironically reveal the edge and snarl living not so far below the surface.
Tenor man Tom Christensen’s hard-driving lead lines make this the most aggressively stated iteration of the song’s imperative that I’ve heard. Put on a happy face…or else!
Another Broadway tune reimagined here is the Gershwins’ “Who Cares,” a tune from 1931’s Of Thee I Sing that’s received past treatment by Ella, Cannonball, and Anita O’Day, among others. McGuinness presents a verdant bossa nova arrangement featuring, again, beautiful solo work on saxophone, this time from Mark Phaneuf, and Gilberto-inspired accompaniment on acoustic guitar.
Elsewhere on the record, you’ll find an arrangement of the late Michel Legrand’s “You Must Believe in Spring” that features McGuinness’s very Chet Baker-like vocals as well as his trombone playing (same goes for McGuiness’s arrangement of “May I Come In”).
Nat Adderley’s “Jive Samba” gets the organ-heavy boogaloo treatment here and is punctuated by strong solos from Dave Reikenberg (baritone sax) and Matt Haviland (trombone).
Among the covers, you’ll find four original compositions from McGuinness, including the closer, “One for the Maestro,” a tune written in the style of many of the old Count Basie and Sammy Nestico charts and dedicated, touchingly, to McGuinness’s recently-passed high school band director, who first introduced Pete to the Count’s music.
With influences from the Duke to the Count, from Broadway to West Hartford, this amalgam of big band styles old and new, Along for the Ride has something for everyone who digs any of the many styles that fall under the big band umbrella.