Friday, January 1, 2021

New Year, New Life


Guitarist and composer Peter Leitch, born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1944, had a busy career, first in his native country and then in the United States. Since the 1970s, he performed alongside the likes of Red Norvo, Kenny Wheeler, Woody Shaw, Gary Bartz, Jaki Byard, Oscar Peterson, and many more.  Since he went out on his own in the early 1980s, Leitch has issued 19 albums as a leader or co-leader plus he appeared as. a sideman on over a dozen recordings. In 2012, he was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.  His prospects were grim until he met Dr. Maxim Kreditor who performed a life-saving operation. The surgery did cause nerve damage (not unexpected) which ended Leitch's playing career; his mind and pencil, however, remain sharp resulting in album #20, "New Life" (Jazz House Records) credited to Peter Leitch's New Life Orchestra.  The 17-song, two CD-set is presented as if each disk represented one set.

You can see the personnel by looking at the album jacket. It's a blend of prominent New York City big band veterans (for instance,  saxophonists Steve Wilson and Dave Pietro sit near each other in the Maria Schneider Orchestra) while the  British guitarist Phil Robson sits in for the composer.  Befitting its title, many of the songs are upbeat. Much of this music "swings" as well thanks to the work of pianist Peter Zak, bassist Yoshi Waki, and drummer Joe Strasser.  It's basically a 12-member ensemble with guests (Chad Coe who adds acoustic guitar on four cuts while Dennis James plays arco bass on five songs); the music may remind some of the work of Gerald Wilson or Bob Florence.  Leitch, always a melodic player, gives his musicians excellent palettes to paint upon.  

CD 1 opens with "Mood For Max" composed for and dedicated to Dr. Maxim Kreditor, the NYC-based cancer specialist, swings right out of the gate not unlike a Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra piece  with the melody shared by the trumpets and reeds, especially the fine flute work of Tim Harrison. Solos by Bill Mobley (trumpet), Steve Wilson (alto sax), and pianist Zak.  The playful "Sorta, Kinda" walks in on the strength of bassist Waki, flautist Harrison, and trombonist Max Seigel.   The bluesy piece features fine solos from guitarist Robson, alto saxophonist Wilson, and Duane Eubanks (trumpet).  Leitch creates a lovely arrangement of Thelonious Monk's classic ballad "'Round Midnight."  After the handsome unaccompanied electric guitar intro, the Orchestra strolls lightly through the melody before a solo each from Robson and Eubanks.  Dig the modified samba that closes the piece.  CD 1 closes on two strong pieces, the medium-tempo ballad "Brilliant Blue, Modified Blue" before moving into the episodic "Fulton Street Suite."  After a powerful ballad theme to open the "..Suite", Strasser produces a speaker rattling solo that soon moves into an uptempo"shout" complete with solos from the guitarist, saxophonists Wilson and Levy plus pianist Zak.  

Highlights of CD 2 include the exhilarating opening track "Exhilaration"; powered by Strasser's strong drumming and Waki's foundational bass lines, the music dances on the delightful solos.  The composer creates a powerful blues dance on his tribute to "Clifford Jordan" which not only strong sectional writing but also fine solos from Levy (tenor sax) and baritone saxophonist Carl Maraghi. That's followed by the Charles Mingus-inspired "Ballad for Charles Davis."  Fine solos from Levy (tenor sax) and Robson are the centerpieces of this tribute to the baritone saxophonist Davis. Look for the short (2:15) "Tutwiler 2001", a bluesy vignette centered around Coe's acoustic guitar but that also includes excellent writing for the brass.  Coe contributes strumming chords (a la Freddie Green) on the blues-soaked closing track "The Long Walk Home." The Count Basie influence also shows up in Leitch's sectional writing behind the multiple solos but don't miss the delightful interaction between the bass trombone, bass, and flute right before Waki's solo.  

Need a positive way to start the New Year. Look no further than "New Life" as it sparkles, jumps, soothes, and makes you nod your head while you snap your fingers.  The two-CD, 17-song program that the Peter Leitch New Life Orchestra presents stays away from politics, current events, and tragedies (save for "Tutwiler 2001" the Mississippi town in which Emmett Till was brutally murdered but also was recognized in 2001 as "the place where the blues was born"); this album serves as a musical balm, as a celebration of survival not just for Peter Leitch but for all those who listen. Take a break and just enjoy this "New Life".  

For more information, go to

Enjoy "Sorta, Kinda": 


Peter Leitch: compositions, arrangements, conducting

Duane Eubanks:  trumpet
Bill Mobley:  trumpet, flugelhorn
Tim Harrison: flute
Steve Wilson: alto and soprano saxophones on 10 tracks
Dave Pietro: alto and soprano saxophones on 8 tracks
Jed Levy: tenor saxophone, flute and alto flute
Carl Maraghi: baritone saxophone and bass clarinet
Matt Haviland: trombone
Max Seigel: bass trombone
Phil Robson: electric guitar
Chad Coe: acoustic guitar on 4 tracks
Peter Zak: piano
Yoshi Waki: acoustic bass
Dennis James: arco bass on 5 tracks
Joe Strasser:  drums 

No comments:

Post a Comment