If the concept behind Code Blue!, the Doc Stewart album released in June, is what he calls the “resuscitation ” of the big band sound, or perhaps even more miraculously the resurrection of that sound, not only does it work as a metaphor, but if enough jazz fans give it a listen, it is in fact likely to rise to miracle. And that is only fitting since not only is Stewart a fine alto sax player working with a talented group of musicians, but he is also an ER physician at the prestigious Mayo Clinic. Who better to resuscitate (resurrect) a patient hovering between life and death?
Hyperbole aside, Code Blue! is an album with a truly authentic big band sound. Much of it relies on some excellent arrangements from Tom Kubis or the band’s pianist Matt Catingub. Whether taking a classic tune like “The Way You Look Tonight” or an original piece like Stewart’s “Patty’s Bossa,” they manage to find the right combination of traditional big band riffs and creative variations to achieve a sound that echoes, but doesn’t merely copy the past-big band with a contemporary vibe.
The album opens with “The Code Blue Suite,” a four-part Kubis and Stewart composition that musically channels the life and death experience of the ER. The parts move from the innocence of birth, “Code Pink,” through “Ironman Blues,” which alludes to the man who feels he has the strength to deal with everything on his own, and “The Last Breath Blues,” a portrayal of the human need to find something larger than the self. It ends with “Code Jesus,” a gospel-like assertion of faith. Stewart, a Cannonball Adderley aficionado ends appropriately with a quotation from “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.”
There is a sweet version of “Poor Butterfly” with featured work by Stewart and Bill Liston. The set also includes tunes by Adderley (“The Sticks” and “Introduction to a Samba”), Oscar Pettiford (“Bohemia After Dark”) and Charles Lloyd (“Song My Lady Sings”). With 14 songs in total, the album offers almost an hour and 20 minutes of exciting big band jazz, plenty to keep discerning listeners smiling.