By Hrayr Attarian
Peter Leitch – Bandleader
Duane Eubanks – Trumpet
Bill Mobley – Trumpet, flugelhorn
Tim Harrison – Flute
Steve Wilson – Alto, soprano saxophone (Disc 1: 1, 3, 4–7 Disc 2: 3, 4, 6, 9)
Jed Levy – Tenor saxophone, flute
Carl Maraghi – Baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Matt Haviland – Trombone
Max Seigel – Bass trombone
Phil Robson – Electric guitar
Chad Coe – Acoustic guitar
Peter Zak – Piano
Dennis James – Arco bass
Yoshi Waki – Bass
Joe Strasser – Drums
Guitarist Peter Leitch commemorates his recovery from advanced lung cancer with the exuberant double album New Life. Even though the necessary treatments left him unable to play the guitar, Leitch substitutes his instrument with a large orchestra, leading it through several of his own intriguing compositions and a couple of standards. A dynamic mélange of inventive improvisations and intricate harmonies, the music is a celebration of second chances.
One of the standouts on this uniformly superb work is the three-part “Fulton Street Suite.” Languid horn refrains open it on a cinematic note. The long, undulating notes fade out as drummer Joe Strasser enters with a thunderous solo that launches the ensemble’s energetic and effervescent interplay. Out of this vibrant collective sound emerges guitarist Phil Robson’s blistering chords as he takes his turn in the spotlight. Saxophonists Steve Wilson and Jed Levy spar playfully and with elegance, leading to pianist Peter Zak’s captivating, resonant chords.
“The Long Walk Home” starts off as a thrilling call and response between the woodwinds and the brass over percolating rhythms. Several of the band members take turns with crisp, clever extemporizations. There is trombonist Matt Haviland and his buttery growl, followed by flutist Tim Harrison’s muscular, flittering lines, saxophonist Carl Maraghi’s cool, baritone phrases and bassist Yoshi Waki with his soulful swagger—among many others. Each musician embellishes this blues-tinged and sophisticated tune with his unique approach without sacrificing the thematic unity.
There are also a handful of tribute pieces including “Mood for Max,” dedicated to his oncologist, Dr. Maxim Kreditor. The upbeat and swinging melody serves as a launching point for trumpeter Bill Mobley’s agile soliloquy laced with warm and burnished tones. Wilson and Zak also put their own respective twists onto the melody, the former with his fiery alto and the latter with his lithe and emotive pianism.
Leitch’s aptly named magnum opus is a celebration of survival and triumph over a deadly illness. The accomplished and versatile guitarist has reinvented himself as a composer, arranger, and conductor. He approaches his new role with creative zeal and brings to it his signature virtuosity and fluid style. New Life is an enjoyable and exquisite recording with a wide appeal that can be savored again and again.