As fun, playful and whimsical as its title Cartoon Bebop would indicate, the latest album by the mostly Florida based 13-piece jazz ensemble The 14 Jazz Orchestra (under the direction of veteran arranger/producer Dan Bonsanti) is exactly the uplifting exuberant joyride we need to navigate these crazy, sometimes dispiriting times.
In a normal pandemic-free era, we would focus on and marvel at the group’s colorful evolution, from a rehearsal band and creative outlet created by Bonsanti for South Florida jazz and studio musicians to bona fide live performance ensemble with two previous recordings.
As we groove, bop, bob and weave in our imaginations to their romps through classics by, among others, Chick Corea (the fiery, breakneck “Got a Match?”, the sensual, lyrical “Duende”), Stanley Clarke (the simmering, funked out “Dayride”), Herbie Hancock (the slow swinging strut “Driftin’”) and Wayne Shorter (the gently reflective lullabye- like-“Infant Eyes”), we might envision the ensemble creating the spontaneous magic and glorious solos in the same room.
But thanks to modern protocols, the session is something of a geographically distant technological miracle, pasted together from separate sessions in Los Angeles, Tennessee, New Jersey and numerous locations around the Sunshine State. Bonsanti credits his engineer Mike Levine, for weaving together the sublime, alternately blazing and sensual tapestry.
For all the colorful re-imaginings, truly the heart and soul of the set are Bonsanti’s own compositions which bookend the set. He lays the spirited foundation of the set with the opening title track and closes with a freewheeling, improv heavy tune whose clever title, “A Day Tripper’s Blues Buffet,” captures his hybrid intentions to fuse a Beatles classic and a feisty original blues vibe.
While embodying the spirit of great ensemble jazz throughout, Cartoon Bebop features a constant rush of wild solos – including standout moments from pianist Mike Levine, piccolo flutist Ed Maina and featured guest saxophonist Ed Calle. Other special guests among the jazz elite include Peter Erskine, Mark Egan, Randy Bernsen and Lindsey Blair.