Small Batch Bourbon by Tim Gill & The Tim Gill All-Stars is an excellent album of jazz standards with clever Nelson Riddle-ish arrangements, Rat Pack-esque vocals, and some Richard Cheese camp.
Gill is an agile vocalist and arranger and the All-Stars give excellent performances in support of every song. The title track is a humorous barrelhouse blues with Gill moving between Dean Martin-ish vocals both sung and spoken. There’s an exceptional piano solo in the middle. It features the pianist contrapuntally playing the boogie-woogie bass line while tearing it up in the right hand. Then the band rejoins.
“A Foggy Day” has some smart saxophone arrangements and humorous band vocals. “Unchain My Heart” keeps the Latin groove from the Ray Charles original but adds some surf organ and prominent tambourine. There’s an excellent saxophone solo and some Maynard Ferguson-like high notes in the trumpet section. There’s a surprise salsa breakdown at the end with some soulful trombone soloing.
“I’m Just A Lucky So-And-So” starts as a laid-back bluesy arrangement with a groovy piano bass line. Halfway through the song builds and soars with stacked horns and an alto saxophone solo. When the vocal comes back over triplet piano hits the song lives somewhere between the Rat Pack, Nat King Cole, and Ray Charles. “Benny’s Bugle” is a strong update of the Benny Goodman/Count Basie standard. Various muted trumpets/bugles duel against each other, calling and responding over a tight hi-hat groove and Dixieland drum fills. “You & The Night & The Music” is a cha-cha that is supported by congas and cowbells keeping steady time over drum fills. The trumpet solo weaves its way through clusters of backing horns and quarter-note triplets from the drums steadily opening up in tone and volume before making the hand-off to a screaming saxophone solo. “Hey Good-Lookin’” is an up-tempo number that closes the album and features a lively organ solo.
Three of the songs feature delightful vocals from Adryon DeLeon. “L-O-V-E” starts with some more competition for Ferguson high notes in the trumpet before DeLeon takes over as if she is playfully bouncing the song from hand to hand. She also shines in “Comes Love” a tight bluesy number. “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” is a hammy exchange between Gill and DeLeon that is cute and funny with tight instrumental segues and a great final punch line.
The album moves between humor and sincerity in a clever way. “I Won’t Dance” starts with a Richard Cheese-like sketch between Gill and the band before the song begins. The vocal is smooth and the band swings. There’s also a smart joke with the introduction of the drum solo. “You Must’ve Been A Beautiful Baby” begins with another band call-and-response and could easily move into schmaltz, but the vocal and quirky horn soli opens up the melodic content of the song. There’s another nice piano feature in the middle before some Louis Armstrong-like trumpet. The joke in “Pennies From Heaven” doesn’t quite work, but the band swings, the melody is good and there’s a strong trading off of solos before an excellent horn solo.
Two particularly interesting moments on the album come in “Sunny” and “Arthouse Façade.” “Sunny” is an interesting update of the Bobby Hepp classic that opens with a bass feature and has some clever chromatic saxophone pads that descend and ascend behind the vocal. Though the arrangement doesn’t acknowledge the lyrical content, it does focus on the melody and is a smart instrumental arrangement. “Arthouse Façade” has a clever lyric and a stilted but interesting delivery in the arrangement that tips its hat to Charles Ives.
Overall, the album is extremely well produced and performed. The vocals, horns and rhythm section all deliver strong performances, the songs are well chosen and sequenced, and it’s a very fun, energetic, and smart accessible listening experience.
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