In 2012, Peter Leitch was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. He was told that he could either undergo potentially career ending treatments or face a possibility of dying within short months. It is eight years later and Peter Leitch is still alive. He can no longer play the guitar but he still creates music. He continues to compose, arrange, and direct his New Life Orchestra.
During his recovery, he took two years to compose, arrange, and/or orchestrate the 17 tracks on this project. The 2-CD album is called, appropriately, New Life. According to Peter, the two CD's represent two sets of music like in a club or concert. All but three of the songs are composed by Peter.
The New Life Orchestra is comprised of 15 members including Duane Eubanks on trumpet, Bill Mobley on trumpet and flugelhorn, Tim Harrison on flute, Jed Levy on tenor sax, flute, and alto flute, Steve Wilson on alto and soprano sax, Dave Pietro on alto and soprano sax, Carl Maraghi on baritone sax and bass clarinet, Matt Haviland on trombone, Max Siegel on bass trombone, Phil Robson on electric guitar, Chad Coe on acoustic guitar, Peter Zak on piano, Dennis James on arco bass, Yoshi Waki on bass, and Joe Strasser on drums.
The first disc opens with Mood for Max and is dedicated to Dr. Maxim Kreditor, the oncologist who undoubtedly saved Peter's life. It is bouncy, lively number with hot horns and a remarkable rhythm section.
The second is Portrait of Sylvia, a tribute to his wife Sylvia Levine. After only the first two tracks, it becomes clear that Peter is a guy who has embraced life and love in one big bear hug. And he’s not letting go.
The rest of the set on Disc 1 includes a brilliant cover of Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight. A landmark original from Monk, Peter arranged the piece beautifully for guitar and orchestra. The flutes carry off a beautifully wistful interpretation.
That was preceded by Monk’s Circle, a Peter original, which commemorates the renaming of the cul-de-sac where Monk once lived in LA. In 1983, it was rechristened Thelonious Sphere Monk Circle. The Monk feel is unmistakable, lush and lovely.
Penumbra is a great sax piece with a fine example of the flexibility of the rhythm section. The same can be said for Brilliant Blue, Twilight Blue. Disc 1 closes with Fulton Street Suite. Following the precept that each disc represents a set in a live setting, this is the way to close out a set, full of romp and riot.
Disc 2 kicks it off with Exhilaration. It is a remembrance of Peter’s arrival in New York City in 1982. It is energetic and smoking hot.
The rest of the disc is like a brief lesson in the History of Jazz with pieces calling to mind Gil Evans and Walker Evans in Elevanses, sax great Clifford Jordan, Ballad for Charles Davis, piano great John Hicks is remembered on Minister’s Son, and Back Story is a walk through the history of Black Americans’ contribution to the world of Jazz.
Spring is Here is a reinvention of the gorgeous Rodgers & Hart song of the same name. The Long Walk Home is a splendid 12-bar blues. There is no weak track on the album and it makes for a wonderful 2+ hours of listening. Well, 4+ because I immediately replayed the whole album. Yeah, it’s that good.
Peter Leitch has taken the hurts and disappointments of a catastrophic illness and transformed it all into something marvelous. The musicians carry forward his vision with aplomb and we are richer for it.
Welcome to your New Life, dear Peter.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl
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