Take the precision of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis big band circa 1970, add the fat ensemble style of Stan Kenton and infuse it all with the high energy driving rock beat of Chase and the result is Scallywag, the new CD from the Melbourne-based big band led by Daryl McKenzie.
Nine originals, nearly all of which have their feet firmly in the early days of the rock fusion genre, form this release, a reliable document of the band's sound in their live gigs at The Apartment. While there are strong solos from the likes of Vinnie Bourke, Lachlan Davidson and especially guitarist Jack Pantazis, this is chiefly an ensemble band – solos do not dominate, nor will you find simple riff tunes with blokes just playing the changes. The arrangements are the star, hence the Thad and Mel allusion.
Standout tracks for me were the CD's only out-and-out swinger, the delectable Patch Goes to Town, a complex latin-based feature called Johnston St (named for a major boulevard in Fitzroy known for its superb Spanish restaurants), and the unconventional ballad The Time I Knew You, composed by the bandleader and full of notable rhythm twists. Cam McAlister's Across the Sky is another expertly-written tune that bears repeat playing.
So, if you are Daryl, how do follow this up? Well, now that the band's jazz-rock chops are so well-documented, consider a few more swingers in the "Patch" vein. Perhaps feature one of your best soloists and let him dominate a slow ballad? Inclusion of one or two lesser-known but worthy standards helps change the pace of anyone’s CD.
Melbourne can be very proud of its complete dominance of the Australian big band scene. With this CD, Daryl McKenzie proves his orchestra belongs right up there with the best of them.
Writer and 3RPC Jazz presenter