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Trombonist Walt Boenig, who paid his dues on the road with the Glenn Miller, Harry James and Jimmy Dorsey bands, among others, has shaped his own Las Vegas-based ensemble in their swing-era image while bringing them up to date with sparkling new arrangements by Tommy Check, Walt Stuart, Bobby Harrison and Joe Lano.
A Lot of Us, four years in the making, is the band’s second album; the first was A Little of You. It’s a two-disc set with eleven tracks on Disc 1, seven on Disc 2 including two “Summertime,” drummer Check’s “Lady J” that are almost eleven minutes long. The level of musicianship is high throughout, and the band swings easily through a program of ten long-lived standards, half a dozen ear-catching originals by Check and one each by Stuart (“After Hours”) and the late Harrison Hickey (“Mambino”).
There are a number of engaging solos, especially by guitarist Lano (“Always,” “Summertime,” Check’s “A Twist of Lemon,” “Have Guitar, Will Travel” and “Lady J”). Tenors Jay Rasmussen and Tony Osiecki skirmish toe-to-toe on Harrison’s lively arrangement of Henry Mancini’s “Days of Wine and Roses,” and Osiecki is the main man on “Unforgettable.” Others given elbow room include altos Dennis Wilson and Fred Haller, trombonists Bobby Scann and Dick McGee, trumpeter Rocky Lombardo and pianist Vincent Falcone. Boenig doesn’t “solo” as such, but plays the melody on ballads (“Invitation,” “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” “Unforgettable,” “Nevertheless”) while bass trombonist Sonny Hernandez does the same on Check’s high-stepping “Where’s Mr. McFarland.” There’s one vocal, and it’s a good one, by Jo Belle on the Ellington chesnut ”It Don’t Mean a Thing.”
Check’s funky version of George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” which opens Disc 2, blends screaming brass with greasy solos by Lano, Rasmussen and bassist Brace Phillips, and Lano displays his nimble chops on Check’s fast-moving “Have Guitar.” Other highlights include Stuart’s bluesy “After Hours” (solos by Falcone, Rasmussen, Lombardo, McGee, baritone Rod Adam), Check’s graceful “Lady J” (Lano, Lombardo, Scann) and Hickey’s sunny “Mambino,” ably driven by drummer Bobby Harrison and percussionist Howard Agster and featuring perky solos by Osiecki and pianist Ronnie Simone.
A Lot of Us encompasses nearly two hours of invigorating big-band Jazz / dance music, lovingly dedicated to the memory of composer / arranger Hickey and saxophonist Ron Helvie who played on the sessions recorded in April / May 1998. While the album’s resonant “ballroom” sound takes some getting used to, that’s a minor distraction and one that is quickly passed over in the face of so much entertaining music.