Remember taverns? Saloons? Speakeasies? They're called nightclubs now. Or restaurants. Or supper clubs - at least, in this neck of the woods they are. But merrie olde England still has its monarchy and its taverns, and even has a Taverners Big Band, the idea for whose formation was born in 1983 after an evening of Christmas revelry and caroling at the Castle Tavern in Christchurch. The Taverners have been playing ever since, and playing with notable competence, if this debut CD is any indication. I'd say they're almost as capable as some of this country's better college ensembles - which isn't meant to disparage the Taverners, as some of our better college ensembles could play with anyone. The Brits aren't quite at that level, but neither do they lag far behind. The Taverners have an efficient rhythm section, an excellent lead trumpeter (Tony Waller), admirable brass and reeds, and a number of enterprising soloists including trumpeters Waller and Steve Waterman, tenor saxophonist Alan Melly and trombonist Chris Ricketts. The choice of music is, on the whole, exemplary. My favorite track, believe it or not, is the Barry Manilow pop hit, "Copacabana," which lends itself surprisingly well to the big-band treatment (and embodies exciting solos by Melly, on flute, and Waterman). Other impressive charts include Alan Hare's "Miss Pankhurst Protests," Chuck Mangione's "El Gatotriste" and "The Little Prince" (or "Princess," according to whether you're reading from the jacket or sleeve), Les Hooper's "Señorita Blues" and "Engine No. 9," Sammy Nestico's superb arrangements of "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "A Night in Tunisia," and three of Sammy's classic compositions - "Marguarite," "Basie Straight Ahead" and "Ya Gotta Try." As this was my introduction to the Taverners, I sampled "Ya Gotta Try" first, to compare it with Buddy Rich's definitive version. Although the Taverners acquit themselves well, the difference is that Buddy's band races whereas the Taverners gallop - but they do gallop with charm and assurance. In fact, much of what is presented here is thoroughly engaging, and easily recommended to big-band enthusiasts. A footnote: timings for every track are overestimated by anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds; don't know why. The total playing time of 62:41 is accurate and quite acceptable. For information about ordering the CD, contact the Taverners; manager (and bassist) Adrian Dwyer at their Internet web site, www.tavernersbigband.org.uk
Sweet Georgia Brown; Se
Mike Hopkins, alto, soprano sax; Eddie Robinson, alto sax; Alan Melly, Lionel Vine, tenor sax; Jess Bettle, baritone sax; Tony Waller, Mike Potts, Peter Curtis, Jon Dart, Steve Waterman, trumpet, flugel; Chris Ricketts, Bobi Ayres, Dennis Bayton, trombone; Colin Francis, bass trombone; Sonny James Lovell, guitar; Alastair Hume, piano; Adrian Dwyer, bass; Dave Kennell, drums.