Veteran trumpeter Bill Warfield has released another album with his Hell’s Kitchen Funk Orchestra. Smile is the second release from a band that combines classic R&B grooves with swinging jazz sentiments.
Warfield is known professionally for intertwining jazz and commercial music that draws on his love for rock bands like Blood, Sweat & Tears and soul performers like James Brown. Smile follows in the same attitude as the orchestra’s 2015 debut, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.
“We had so much fun making this album, and I think it sounds it,” Warfield says. “For me, that’s what it’s all about. This was two hard years in the making, three recording sessions and two bands, but I got to do this with folks who really know how to groove and I love performing with.”
Smile is a collection of wide-ranging cover tracks include Weather Report’s “Cucumber Slumber,” Booker T. & the MG’s funk classic “Hip Hug-Her,” and Bobbie Gentry’s best known “Ode To Billie Joe.” The album also has a capacious arrangement of “Theme From Law & Order,” the wistful Paul Williams-Kenny Ascher waltz “Rainbow Connection,” even a jazz version of the Eurhythmics’ “This City Never Sleeps.” The name of the album comes from a song written by silent movie star Charlie Chaplin and listeners can hear two versions, one with vocals and one instrumental.
“When I was growing up, I listened to the music in songs. I never listened to the lyrics,” Wafield says. “For me, it’s an exploration going back and listening to all these tunes I grew up with and this time listening to the lyrics.”
Their new album features many of the musicians from the first album but added to the mix are Jane Stuart on vocals, Cecilia Coleman on piano, Matt Chertkoff on guitar. On this recording the band is also joined by Warfields longtime friend, Blue Lou Marini on woodwinds and the one and only Paul Shaffer on Hammond B3 and electric piano. Rounding out the sessions were the renowned jazz vocalists Carolyn Leonhart and Julie Michels
“We all groove on each other with this band. We listen to what we’ve played and we’re mesmerized by the level of talent and musicianship,” Warfield says. “We’re gassed by what each other can do. It’s a great band. I get to play with all these young musicians and we’re doing this amazing stuff.”
Warfield is already working on a new album. The band tracks, taken from his 2020 performance in Zoellner Arts Center, are nearly finished and will play on his wide-ranging musical intrests.
“I think my real strength comes from being an arranger,” he adds. “I think I do the best with other people’s material. I want to do all of it. I like so many things. I was a studio arranger before my teaching career. I’ve worked with Ornette (Coleman). I’ve worked with Paul Anka. I’ve worked with the Spinners, Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra. I’ve done a commissioned piece for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The problem is I love doing all of it.”
Give it a listen: Bill Warfield and the Hells Kitchen Funk Orchestra and Smile can be found online. Enjoy.