The Blue Wisp Big Band is a 16 piece orchestra which has performed every Wednesday since 1980 at the Blue Wisp Jazz Club in Cincinnati, Ohio, with few changes in personnel. A Night At The Wisp
is the band's first recording of a performance at that venue. The band is led by saxophonists Larry Dickson and Joe Gaudio.
This orchestra really swings. I know of no other album whose whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Thirteen different members solo on this album, and every soloist is competent, though no one makes you wonder why he's not headlining at the Village Vanguard. The stars here are the bass and drums duo of Mike Sharfe and John Von Ohlen, and the arrangers.
Six arrangers wrote the charts for the twelve songs and 66 minutes of music here. The selections are a mix of jazz standards and tunes written for the band. It is remarkable how many different orchestras can be heard as influences. Nearly every song is up-tempo. The album begins with "Cold Tater Stomp," something to get the audience warmed up. Herb Aronoff comtributes a nice tenor sax solo. Mike Andres is the band's most impressive soloist, shining on alto on "Yours is My Heart Alone" and on soprano on Dave Brubeck's "Theme from Mr. Broadway." The latter piece is clearly influenced by Buddy Rich's Pacific Jazz band.
"Where or When" is taken at mid tempo, faster than that ballad is usually heard. Stan Kenton's influence is heard on a toe-tapping rendition of Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream." Trombonist Paul Piller contributes a particularly playful solo on the melody of "Sweet Lorraine," and Piller's composition "Penniless" features a nice succession of five soloists, including bass and drums.
Billy Taylor's "Capricious" enjoys a Caribbean rhythm. Not till the ninth selection, Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life," do we hear a soft performance; Joe Gaudio gives us a nice tenor sax solo here. "Sparks" is reminiscent of Woody Herman's Second Herd with the Four Brothers. Joe Henderson's "Recorda-Me," which was recorded by the composer as a big band arrangement in 1996, offers Latin rhythms to add to the album's variety. The closing "Amyable" recalls Gerald Wilson's arrangement of "Milestones," with good solos by Aronoff again on tenor and Al Nori on trumpet.
A Night At The Wisp suggests that a trip to Cincinnati should certainly include a Wednesday visit to the Blue Wisp.
Personnel: The Blue Wisp Big Band:
Mike Andres, Jim Sherrick, Herb Aronoff, Joe Gaudio, Larry Dickson (saxophones);
Jeff Folkens, Kevin Moore Jerry Conrad, Al Nori (trumpets);
Paul Piller, Clarence Pawn, Jim Pelz, Gary Langhorst, Bill Gwynne (trombones);
Steve Shmidt (piano);
Mike Sharfe (bass);
John Von Ohlen (drums).