TRUMPETER/arranger/composer John MacLeod showed he meant business Sunday afternoon when he opened a Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra concert with his dynamic composition The Great Danes, which showcased both his writing and the band's tight ensemble playing.
MacLeod, who played mostly flugelhorn in the first of two Sunday concerts, leads a big band in Toronto at the Rex Hotel jazz and blues club and it's that band's arrangements that helped the WJO kick ass over 13 tunes.
MacLeod took some solos during the show, but preferred playing as part of the ensemble and letting WJO members take the spotlight, such as Jeff Presslaff's excellent trombone solo on The Touch Of Your Lips, Will Bonness's great piano solo on Lover Come Back To Me (one of many during the afternoon), Greg Gatien's tenor saxophone solo on A Day On Sawyers Lake, and the tenor solo by Paul Balcain on Did You Call Her Today.
The concerts had an added theme of love songs for Valentine's Day and featured singer Helen White on five songs, the best easily being Lover Come Back To Me with great singing, great ensemble play and a great piano solo by Bonness.
Her rendition of MacLeod's arrangement of Comes Love was a treat. White was simply terrific and a duo spot with bassist Gilles Fournier really set off White's voice. She nailed the standards S'Wonderful and Come Rain Or Come Shine, with great backing by the 19-piece orchestra.
One of the most striking tunes was the MacLeod composition A Day on Sawyers Lake, his reflections of watching changes on the lake, which featured a superb tenor solo by Gatien, a graceful Bonness piano solo and White singing wordless vocals. The band's ensemble play was top-rate.
Many jazz musicians will insert a quote from another tune into whatever they are playing, but MacLeod took it to the extreme with his composition Quotes, a seamless collection of musical quotes into a coherent, engaging piece.
The concert closed with the theme from the old Wayne and Shuster TV comedy show, which MacLeod transcribed from a YouTube video to perform at a concert featuring music by Rick Wilkins, an arranger whose work was featured in the Sunday concert.