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Underdog, and Other Stories...

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Album Review

Pianist Ted Kooshian picks up where he left off on his second CD with his Standard Orbit Quartet, offering novel interpretations of themes from cartoons, television series, movies, plus a few familiar jazz and pop compositions. The lineup hasn't changed much, with Jeff Lederer on tenor and soprano saxes, bassist Tom Hubbard, and drummer Warren Odze, though Scott Neumann takes over on drums on a few numbers due to a scheduling conflict for Odze. Those who grew up in the '60s will remember Underdog (starring Wally Cox as the voice of the canine superhero), yet this campy interpretation of its theme song is centered around a lively Afro-Cuban beat. "Wild Wild West" (starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin) is recast as a loping gospel number, featuring Lederer's passionate, preaching tenor, all that's missing is the closing "Amen" from a choir. Everyone who loves the Looney Tunes cartoons of the '40s, '50s, and '60s is likely familiar with Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse," which was orchestrated and used in excerpts by Carl Stalling. Best compared with Scott's original recording, Kooshian's hilarious, stripped-down arrangement gets into a bit of stride, some pseudo-classical and avant-garde, along with many shifts in the tempo, resisting any predictable path. The dissonant setting of "Popeye" showcases the leader's angular piano against Lederer's playful soprano sax, then alters direction into an ominous vamp (possibly suggesting Popeye's inevitable battle with Brutus). Henry Mancini's "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is fairly straight-ahead, with lush tenor, elegant piano, and brushwork suggesting an early morning stroll in Manhattan on an autumn day. Likewise, the take of Duke Ellington's "Purple Gazelle" (also recorded by its composer as "Angelica") swings like mad in African-flavored swing, with Lederer's superb soprano dominating the track. Ted Kooshian has obviously found a winning formula with this band, and if they continue to work together, they should suffer no shortage of songs to uncover for their mostly madcap experiments. Rate it four-and-a-half stars or five chuckles.

Underdog, and Other Stories..., Ted Kooshian's Standard Orbit Quartet
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