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Album Reviews
The Sydney All Star Big Band - "Pyldriver"

      "I hope everyone world-wide gets to hear and buy this CD. It's a real treasure. Congratulations to these guys and thanks for playing your butts off. You make our world of music a better place" - Bobby Shew.
Right from the word go this CD will pin your ears back. Precise precision playing from all sections, dynamic dynamics, super fine tuning and a superb recording technique with an awesome live presence that is second to none. Now for the scoring. Well, every number is different. Different tempo, different mood, different type of scoring on each one, by different composers. To name only a couple, otherwise I'd probably go on for ever: Child's Play - captures all the joy and laughter you would expect from the title. Written by Judy Bailey, Child's Play leads us dancing and skipping through a whole collection of nursery rhymes. Beautiful. Newtown Tango, by Don Rader - close your eyes and you'll see them doing it in full Argentino dress, eyes sparkling, red rose between the teeth, ganchos, sacadas, boleos of every kind with a few sentadas thrown in, bandoneon and all. Well, it's an accordion here, but it captures the atmosphere perfectly. And you have never, ever, heard a tango swing like this one. Don has two scores on the CD and is quite heavily featured as a soloist, and rightly so. Everyone else in the band gets a solo or two on here. I've mentioned Don, though, because I was downloading something pretty large from the Internet while listening to this CD on the computer and it suddenly occurred to me that Don was repeating eight extremely soulful bars of one of his solos over and over again. I got to know those eight bars pretty well after a time, and I thought Wow! - Don's deep! A couple of minutes went by, with a few dozen more repeats, the download finally finished and the solo went on to completion. Almost like the needle sticking on the old 78s. Wicked. All of the scoring is ultra modern, with the arrangers all using those clusters and intervals in the chords and harmonies that we used to call wrong notes in the good old days because we didn't know what the hell we were talking about. What with the writing, the playing and the recording you can learn more about big band technique from this CD than from any book or teacher. One last word, and I have to tell you this - the intro and background figures to Pitt Street, by saxist Graham Jesse will knock your socks off. While listening to this one I kept bursting out laughing with sheer delight. But I was doing that in all the other numbers as well, all the way through the CD, now I come to think of it. To finish off there's a new score of Take the A Train from Bob Florence. He must have been standing waiting on the platform for a hell of a long time when he wrote this because the greatly beloved melody doesn't start until we're a good way into the opus, although you can clearly hear the engine getting up steam at the beginning. Don't miss this one, whatever you do, it's worth the wait.
Ron Simmonds

“It’s hard to write liner notes for an album like this", Australian superstar James Morrison says about Pyldriver, the second recording by trumpeter Ralph Pyl’s superlative Sydney All-Star Big Band. It’s hard to review it too. Where does one begin—with the picturesque and persuasive charts, the precise and powerful ensemble work, the sharp and sinewy rhythm section, the energetic and eloquent solos—or all of the above? Whatever the starting point, the conclusion is the same—that this is not only Australia’s leading big band, but one that compares quite favorably with ensembles anywhere in the world, up to and including the “birthplace of jazz". With one notable exception—Billy Strayhorn’s shop-worn “Take the ‘A’ Train", wonderfully reconditioned by Bob Florence—the All-Stars play only original compositions, six of which were written and arranged by members of the band, and each of which is top-drawer. No less admirable are Canadian Terry Promane’s swinging “This But’s for You", Judy Bailey’s “Child’s Play" (cleverly based on a number of nursery rhymes), and Richard Percival’s lusty bow to the great woodwind virtuoso, “Paquito". Trombonist Dave Panichi composed “Pyldriver" and “Sensuale", saxophonist Graham Jesse “Shoalhaven Sunrise" and “Pitt Street", trumpeter and American expatriate Don Rader “Blues Down Under" and “Newtown Tango". Each of them does double duty, with Panichi soloing brilliantly on “This But’s for You", Jesse on “Paquito" (alto) and “Tango" (soprano), Rader on “This But’s for You" and “’A’ Train". But we shouldn’t single them out, as everyone else is similarly impressive, from trumpeters Pyl, Warwick Alder and Paul Panichi to tenors Mark Taylor and Craig Walters, clarinetist Adrian Cunningham, baritone Blaine Whittaker, pianist Bill Risby, bassist Brendan Clarke and drummer Gordon Rytmeister. And we mustn’t overlook the guitarists. There are three, and each one—Ben Hauptmann, Rex Goh, Jim Pennell—is heard to good advantage, Hauptmann on “Pyldriver", Pennell on “’A’ Train", Goh on ”Paquito" and “Pitt Street". Especially captivating are the saxophone quintet that introduces “Pitt Street" and Risby’s deft use of “piano/accordion" to simulate the bandoneon on the evocative “Newtown Tango". Again, however, one must be careful not to over-praise a particular component (even though the temptation is almost irresistible, especially when citing the rhythm section), as everything on the album is exemplary. There is, in fact, nothing unflattering to be said about Pyldriver, which is one of the most electrifying big-band albums it has been my pleasure to hear and review in quite some time, and an unequivocal addition to the year’s Top Ten listing.
Jack Bowers

Ralph Pyl's all star line-up represents the high water mark of Australian big band jazz. No other orchestra has ever matched its power, superbly blended ensemble and boundless solo strength. It goes from strength to strength. And as good as this band is on record - and it's excellent here - it's even better live. American pianist and arranger Bob Florence's chart of Take The A Train has rarely sounded better: the almost perfectly executed ensembles punctuated by the solos of guitarist Jim Pennell, Don Rader's pungent trumpet and the booting baritone saxophone of Blaine Whittaker who seems to grow in stature with each new recording. Whittaker also solos strongly on Rader's Blues Down Under, which kicks off with Brendan Clarke's bass and Bill Risby's piano setting a Basieite groove. This classic chart is one of 11 other originals which make up the rest of the album - and they give the soloists a chance to stretch out. The band rockets joyfully through Judy Bailey's Child's Play with Risby again in good form and trumpeter Warwick Alder stamping his authority on the piece. Alder is just as impressive on flugelhorn on Graham Jesse's long, impressionistic Shoalhaven Sunrise, showing he has few peers as a ballad player on the instrument. I also enjoyed Jesse's Pitt Street, especially the liquid clarinet stylings of Adrian Cunningham. And Jesse gets his chance on Rader's Newtown Tango with some fine straight-ahead blowing on soprano and Risby switching to piano accordian to good effect. Trombonist Dave Panichi, who wrote the exciting title track, only has one solo, sharing the honours with Rader's flugelhorn on Terry Promane's This But's For You. I would have liked to heard more from him but faced with the embarrassment of riches on this album - and I have hardly scratched the surface - I can only echo the words of Stan Kenton: "This is an orchestra".
Kevin Jones

Those who crave a big-band fix should grab a copy of Ralph Pyl's latest CD - Pyldriver released through Newmarket Records. Compared to only a few years ago, Sydney is blessed with a host of big bands. The high maintenance of a 16 to 25-piece band and changing social conditions almost made them extinct or, seen only on rare occasions. But they have made a comeback: think The Kings of Swing; Sydney Sound Big Band; Dan Barnett Big Band; Shawnuff Swing Band; The Evan Lohning Big Band; Brad Child's Swing Orchestra; The Rhino Factory .. the list goes on. So, who ya gunna call when ya need a big band? Why, none other than trumpeter Ralph Pyl (pronounced as in pile-driver) who has assembled a band of all stars - musicians such as Gordan Rytmeister, Adrian Cunningham, Warwick Alder, Paul Panichi, Graham Jesse, Bill Risby and Don Rader. Some US jazz artists, who know a thing or two about the species, positively gush. Veteran trumpeter Bobby Shew, who has worked with the band, says: "These guys are some of the best musicians you'll hear anywhere. Every chair is covered by a monster player, not only playing the parts but as soloists as well." And pianist Bob Florence, who has penned an arrangement of Take the A Train for the CD, writes: "The band is made up of Sydney's extraordinary heavyweights. On this CD ... it's all there, all the fire, accuracy, the sensitivity and all of the fun." Even as a youngster listening to bands led by Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Count Basie and Rob McConnell, Pyl dreamed of one day forming his own big band. After an apprenticeship in the Northside and Daly-Wilson big bands, he fulfilled his dream in the late '80s when he formed the Sydney All Star Big Band. The band recorded its debut album Doin' Our Thing three years ago. pyl says: "I thought it was time we did another one. So I went to the guys and said I'm happy to fund the album if you submit the compositions. They were really enthusiastic and the results are extraordinary." In recognition of their excellence, Pyl's boys have picked up Mo Awards for the past four years. It was the band behind the hugely successful singer Tom Burlinson's production Frank - The Sinatra Story in Song. It's the band used in the top-rating big band segment of Australian Idol and was alos featured in the movie The Night We Called it a Day. The band has worked with or backed some of our better-known performers including James Morrison, Anthony Warlow, Frank Bennett and Don Burrows. So it's good to hear Ralph Pyl and the Sydney All Star Big Band step out on their own with their second album of original material, Pyldriver.
Barry Morris


What a group of musicians! I first heard them in the Domain doing some amazing Bob Florence arrangements, happily there's is one on this album: Take The A Train. He had a little help on this one from Billy Strayhorn. Jim Pennell's guitar solo is classy. Don Rader's trumpet solo is, as always, magnificent. Baline Whittaker on baritone helps to make this oh so very hip. The rest of the tracks on this CD are originals from some outstanding songwriters. Dave Panichi wrote the title track. It has an infectious driving bass line and features Ben Hauptmann with a superior guitar solo. The drum solo from Gordan Rytmeister prompted me to grab for the CD as I exclaimed, "Who was that drummer!" Panichi also penned Sensuale. It's sophisticated featuring Bill Risby on keyboards with some very unusual sounds and Craig Walters on sexy tenor. Terry Promane wrote This But's For You: a swinging tune that really showcases the horn section. Don Rader's flugelhorn and Dave Panichi's trombone are slick. Don Rader wrote Blues Down Under: In keeping with all good blues: there's lot's of great solos, including Ralph Pyl on trumpet. The use of mutes in both the early part and the end of the arrangement gives the listener a sense of balance. Rader also wrote Newtown Tango. It starts with a great tango before moving into a swing section featuring Graham Jesse on soprano sax and Bill Risby on piano accordian. Judy Bailey wrote Child's Play. It's full of energy. Kerpow! Then some stylish quiet moments and there's even a quote from Twinkle Twinkle Little Star from the horn section. In fact, listen closely, and you may even hear more. Graham Jesse wrote Shoalhaven Sunrise. It's a work of art. It's layback. I think I detected a bass clarinet. Listen to that cymbal work. Warwick Alder on flugelhorn will take you to that special place. Jesse also wrote Pitt Street. It starts by showcasing the horn section before turning into a Jazz-rock tune featuring Adrian Cunningham on clarinet and Paul Panichi on trumpet. Tony Azzopardi on congas adds that something special. It takes me back to some of those great Supermarket gigs at the old Basement. Who better to have play slamming guitar than Rex Goh. Richard Percival wrote Paquito. If you couldn't work it out from the name it's a Latin tune with a funky back beat. There's an Afro-Cuban mid section featuring some great solos from Graham Jesse on alto and Craig Walters on tenor. Brendan Clarke plays bass like I've never heard him before. As they say, there's something for everybody on this one.
Joy Mestroni


The Sydney All Star Big Band are thriving. Since their first CD, "Doin' Our Thing", they have become a fixture of the Sydney Festival. They have worked with top arrangers and composers such as Bob Florence, whose surprising and dangerous arrangement of Take the "A" Train is heard here. The real wealth of the band lies in its in-house composers, dazzling soloists and punchy, precise ensembles. Among many pleasures are Don Rader's evocative Newtown Tango, Blaine Whittaker's churning baritone and Warwick Alder's flugelhorn solo on the softer-hued Shoalhaven Sunrise.
John Shand


Album Reviews
The Sydney All Star Big Band - "Doin' Our Thing"

    When recording a big band album, leaders and arrangers are usually faced with two choices - give their interpretation of music that has been recorded before or turn to their original material. Trumpeter Ralph Pyl, who has led this brilliant Sydney orchestra with distinction for the past decade, decided on the latter course after consulting band members. At it's best this is a powerfully driving, enthusiastic and cohesive unit, especially when playing the charts of trumpeter Don Rader (All Clear) and trombonist Dave Panichi (Manhattan). It's a band with fire in it's belly - the brass struts and shouts, then blends with the reeds so the sections appear to be almost straining at the leash. And the rhythm, stoked by drummer Gordon Rytmeister and bassist Dave Pudney, surges relentlessly but without any strain. In fact, at one stage I thought I was listening to an American big band - there can be no higher praise. This disc presents the band in many moods - from fire eating excitement to relaxed, languid and even gentle mode. It is blessed with outstanding soloists - Rader, Panichi, Pyl, baritone saxophonist Blaine Whittaker and alto saxophonist Trevor Griffin to name but a few - but none better than pianist Bill Risby, whose playing is never less than excellent as he solos with flair and imagination. This is the best Australian big band album I have heard.
Kevin Jones The Australian January 19, 2002.

      Doin' Our Thing. The Sydney All Star Big Band (La Brava) 8 stars.
Established big bands are a rarity anywhere, so we should count ourselves lucky to have an outfit of this quality as an ongoing entity. It grew out of the Northside Big Band of the 1970s, and under the leadership of trumpeter Ralph Pyl, has a long track record of supporting international touring stars as well as gigs on its own account. On record - more sparkling audio quality by the La Brava label - there is a superbly balanced, crisp and deep band sound. Beginning with All Clear by expatriate US trumpet veteran Don Rader, the program shows off the varied talents in the band, through instumental soloists of the calibre of Graham Jesse (alto), Trevor Griffin (alto), Bill Risby (piano), Dave Panichi (trombone), Rader (flugalhorn), Pyl and Rex Goh (guitar). Most of these names are also on the score sheets as composers, with a resultant pleasing variety in the material. Dave Panichi's 12 year US stint is behind his mini suite Manhattan with its interesting changes and moods. Though the album is mainly in the big band mainstream, this is also suitably contemporary big band writing in a genre that often seems lacking in forward development. Besides the firepower of the soloists, you hear superbly crafted scores that offer rich colour and shading, and tremendously well handled fresh ideas in the arrangements, such as the way the horns will burrow up through the mix to make a statement then recede. The playing is sharp as a tack where necessary, with the front-line horns bristling and chatting in tight formation and expansive when called for. Every track has this level of refinement. Anyone with a hankering for the modern big band sound will thoroughly enjoy this album.
Shane Nichols Australian Financial Review May 11, 2002.

      Fans of big band jazz may rest assured that things are swingin' down under, and here's the proof - nearly an hour of invigorating straight ahead jazz by the talented Sydney All Star Big Band led by trumpeter Ralph Pyl in it's long - over due coming - out party. All but one of the nine selections on Doin' Our Thing were written by members of the band including two (All Clear, Wallflower) by American expatriate and world class trumpeter Don Rader. The lone exception is Frank Mantooth's funky If the Shew Fits. While it took more than a decade to usher the ensemble into a recording studio (Pyl formed the band in 1990), everyone was clearly inspired by the opportunity and made the most of it. The band, in fact, is much better than the recording itself, which is no more than adequate with generally cramped sound and mediocre stereo separation. If one overlooks that flaw, however, there is much to appreciate, starting with Rader's dynamic opener, All Clear, on which he and baritone Blaine Whittaker share solo honors. Graham Jesse wrote the rhythmic Just Joshin' and brassy Matinee Madness, the first featuring his alto sax with Paul Panichi's trumpet and Gordon Rytmeister's drums, the second Pyl's muted trumpet, Bill Risby's piano and the band's two tenors, Craig Walters and Mark Taylor. Trombonist Dave Panichi's two compositions, Manhattan (solos by Risby, trumpeter Paul Thorne, alto Trevor Griffin) and Footnote (featuring his trombone and Risby's piano) are no less provocative, with elegant passages for brass and reeds underscoring his creative use of tempo and dynamics. Griffin wrote the scampering See the Future and luminous Romantic Interlude as part of a suite for big band. Griffin solos with Rader on Future and Risby on Interlude. Rader's Wallflower, whose blithe spirit is all but irresistible, includes eloquent comments by Don (flugel) and Jesse (soprano). Any lingering doubts that the spirit of big band jazz has indeed circled the globe are easily laid to rest by this superlative album, which multi- instrumentalist James Morrison, one of that country's most renowned musicians, describes as "a milestone in Australian Jazz". Milestone or not, it's a marvelous statement that deserves to be widely heard and admired.
Jack Bowers USA All About Jazz March 17, 2002.

      For the debut album for this Australian big band, leader and trumpet player Ralph Pyl has gone the route of using all original material, mostly composed by members of the band. Among the composers is American Don Rader, a stalwart in big bands led by Woody Herman, Count Basie and Buddy Rich as well as leading his own groups. It's one of Rader's pieces, All Clear that leads off the session, helping to set the tone for the album with an arrangement that highlights the band's clean, modern sound. But this is not an album that is devoted to how fast and hard the group can play. There is welcome variety in both style and tempo. Pyl also leads a funk group Back to Back and one hears this influence in such tunes as If the Shew Fits, a piece composed by Frank Mantooth for Bobby Shew. One of the album's highlights is the appropriately named Romantic Interlude, a lovely, flowing ballad featuring the alto saxophone of the composer Trevor Griffin. But the meat and potatoes of the group are the big time rocking pieces featuring solid work by each section, as well as engaging solos. While the band is clearly well rehearsed, it nonetheless plays with a looseness that captures the essence of swing. The group's modernism is brought to the fore with such complex charts as Footnote, dedicated to Jaco Pastorious, building upon lines used by the firery bass player. With this it's maiden album, The Sydney All Star Big Band with it's harmonically progressive music, can legitimately claim a niche in the upper echelons of modern big bands.
Dave Nathan USA AMG All Guide March 18, 2002.

Big Band music is a passion, an obsession, or it has been since the early 1940’s, when I lucked on to the United States Armed Forces Radio in the Pacific short wave radio broadcasts. James Morrison says of this session, "The music gets into your blood. It’s powerful, swinging, virtuosic and exciting. That is why it is such a joy to hear". Seeing "all star" can be as ho-hum as "best off" in an album title, but there are enough "stars" in this 20 man line up to make the title more valid than many - most? Canberrans will claim as their own Canberra School of Music jazz studies graduate Anthony Kable and lecturer Dave Panichi, both trombonists. Eight of the nine tunes are band member compositions. They are by trumpeter Don Rader ( All Clear #1, Wallflower #5 ), reedman and flautist Graham Jesse ( Just Joshin’ #2, Matinee Madness #6 ), Panichi ( Manhattan #3, Footnote #9 ) and saxophonist and flautist Trevor Griffin ( See the Future #7, Romantic Interlude #8 ). The odd one out is Frank Mantooth’s tribute to Bobby Shew, If the Shew Fits. The band roars, shouts and wails, the blood pulses, all the stars shine brightly in the musical sky and big banders give thanks to Ralph Pyl and his cohorts.
Michael Foster The Canberra Times December 24, 2001.

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