True to its whimsical title, Bucket List, the first ever project by the Jim Waller Big Band, finds the veteran composer/arranger and multi-instrumentalist fulfilling (after an incredibly multi-faceted career) fulfilling a lifelong dream working with a 21 piece ensemble that does it all – from hard swinging jazz and guttural blues to sensual waltzes, edgy funk and fiery Latin jazz.
The only shame is that Waller – whose career dates back to 60’s surf group The Deltas and includes work with Marvin Gaye, Willie Nelson, Carl Anderson and Pete Fountain – didn’t get to realize his longtime dream until after the passing of his wife of 37 years. Still, he gives us a sense of her vibrant life and their spirited relationship via the boisterous and brassy, high octane opening track “Samba for Suzell,” one of many tributes among the seven originals Waller penned for the project.
Almost like strolling through his influential, wide-ranging musical career and personal life, he pays homage along the way to his long-ago rock jazz octet Los Blues (“Blues for Los Blues”), his musical educator friend Dr. Bob Connelly (the tender, reflective “A Ballad For Bob”), the great composer/arranger Billy Byers (the cool-strutting “This is It”) and his firstborn daughter Lori (“Waltz for Laura”).
Among the ensemble’s re-imaginings, Waller – who also gets in his licks on tenor and soprano sax and organ – pays homage to everyone from the Gershwins (“Rhapsody in Blue”) and Peggy Lee (“I Love Being Here with You” and “Why Don’t You Do Right,” featuring exquisite sultry vocals by Jacqueline Sotelo) to San Antonio born saxman Clifford Scott and guitarist Billy Butler (a snappy blues roll through “Honky Tonk”).
In addition to Sotelo, who sings lead on a total of five swinging standards), a special shout out also goes to the anchoring force of former Yellowjackets drummer Will Kennedy and concertmaster Dr. Stephanie Westney. Upon repeated listens, this Bucket List proves itself full of fresh melodic, harmonic and rhythmic surprises and is a versatile, engaging musical gift that keeps on giving.