It’s rare to find a debut artist who brings mostly original music. Even rarer when the artist leads a large ensemble but does not perform as a musician. That’s the case with the Christopher Zuar Orchestra’s Musings (Sunnyside Records, 2016).

With liner notes by the album’s producer and fellow jazz artist, Mike Holober, Musings takes the listener on a journey of thought, expression and virtual scenescapes.

The musicians are Dave Pietro, alto and soprano saxophones, piccolo, flute and alto flute; Ben Kono, alto and soprano saxophones, flute, oboe and clarinet; Jason Rigby, tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and clarinet; Lucas Pino, tenor saxophone and clarinet; and Brian Landrus, baritone saxophone and bass clarinet; trumpets and flugelhorns by Tony Kadleck, Jon Owens, Mat Jodrell and Matt Holman; trombones by Tim Albright, Matt McDonald and Alan Ferber; Max Seigel on bass trombone; Pete McCann on electric and acoustic guitars; Frank Calberg on piano and Fender Rhodes; John Hebert on acoustic and electric bass; Mark Ferber on drums; Rogerio Boccato, percussion on three tracks; and Jo Lawry, voice on four tracks.

“Remembrance” opens the set. The composition straddles the line between the symphonic opening title to a motion picture and the softer side of big band jazz. The horn groups collaborate and cooperate for much of the melodic phrases, with individual instruments stepping out here and there, particularly the alto sax. Pick any of the middle to late 1970s police dramas on television or in cinema, those that were set in San Francisco – Ironside, The Streets of San Francisco or the Dirty Harry franchise, and this would fit perfectly in the soundtrack.

“Ha! (Joke’s on You)” is a sassy tune that injects a little touch of funk. The mix of muted and open horns works well alongside the bass line groove and occasional wah-wah effects of the guitar. A bright trumpet solo in the middle is accompanied by some fanciful licks by the guitar and Fender Rhodes. The horns swell toward the end of the solo, then the song shifts gears to a mellow sequence of overlapping phrases by the horn sections. The song shifts again, back into drive, this time with the guitar going rock star on us.

Zuar is from Long Island, New York. He played trumpet in elementary school and leaned toward classical music and jazz. Inspirations include Maurice Andre and Louis Armstrong. While a student at the New England Conservatory, Zuar switched from majoring in trumpet to composition. The change paid off, as Musings brilliantly shows off his songwriting skills.