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Big Band Bonanza: Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster, George Gruntz, Barbara Lea

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It is nearly impossible for most big bands to stick together for very long these days, due to the lack of touring opportunities or even regular local performances, to say nothing of participants' scheduling conflicts. But big band CDs keep appearing and each of the following four titles has merit.



Jimmy Heath Big Band
Turn Up the Heath
Planet Arts Records
2006

Jimmy Heath's abilities as a composer/arranger have long been acknowledged, in addition to his strengths playing several different reed instruments. He assembled an allstar band (a partial list includes trumpeters Greg Gisbert, Sean Jones and Terell Stafford, trombonists Benny Powell and Slide Hampton, plus saxophonists Antonio Hart, Gary Smulyan, Charles Davis and Andres Boiarsky) for to interpret his enticing charts on Turn Up The Heath, with predictable fireworks. "Big P is dedicated to his late brother Percy, with a driving bass line by another P, Peter Washington. Lew Tabackin guests on flute in the swinging jazz waltz "Gemini . The leader's solos are highlights of the moving arrangement of the standard "I'm Glad There is You (on tenor) and Latin-flavored setting of Kenny Dorham's "No End (on soprano). This is an outstanding disc and easily one of the best albums released at the end of 2006.

Frank Foster and the SWR Big Band
A Fresh Taste of Thad Jones and Frank Foster
Hanssler Classic
2006

Hänssler Classics hasn't ventured into jazz very often, but when the German label does, it is typically to bring over a top notch American soloist to perform with the SWR Big Band. Frank Foster, who was a key contributor to the success of the Count Basie Orchestra during the late '50s and early '60s (along with Thad Jones) both as a soloist and composer/arranger, fronts this outstanding European orchestra on A Fresh Taste of Thad Jones and Frank Foster, blending charts by the tenor saxophonist and the late trumpeter. No attempt is made to duplicate Basie's sound, but the band responds with consistently swinging performances, highlighted by Jones' timeless "Mean What You Say and the extended workout of Foster's "A Fresh Taste of the Blues . The Foster of the mid '90s (pre-stroke) was still a potent soloist, taking choruses on 6 of the 11 tracks and pianist Klaus Wagenleiter, trombonist Ian Cumming and flugelhornist Karl Farrent are among the many fine players featured as well.

George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band
Tiger By the Tail
TCB Records
2006

Swiss-born pianist and composer George Gruntz has had an adventurous spirit throughout his career and the latest edition of his Concert Jazz Band on Tiger By The Tail is no exception. With a band that includes trumpeters Marvin Stamm and Jack Walrath, trombonists Dave Bargeron and Earl McIntyre, saxophonists Dave Liebman, Scott Robinson and Donny McCaslin, plus Howard Johnson (tuba and baritone sax), Gruntz' program is wide-ranging. His "So What (Serious Fun)? is a hilarious recipe of musical styles including post-bop, stride and funk among its many ingredients. Robinson plays the rarely heard sarrusophone in the swaggering "So You Are? , which was inspired by an Amiri Baraka poem. Stamm, who contracted the musicians for the recording, contributed the breezy "Samba du Nancy and solos with gusto. There's not one disappointing track within this CD, though it is regrettable that numerous soloists in the reed and brass sections aren't clearly identified.

Barbara Lea with the Loren Schoenberg Big Band
Black Butterfly
(Self Published)
2006

Vocalist Barbara Lea celebrates the 50th anniversary of her debut album A Woman in Love with the self-published Black Butterfly, featuring Loren Schoenberg and His Orchestra. Always gifted with a deep alto and a knack for singing top notch songs (whether or not they are familiar to jazz fans), Lea's voice now has a touch of vibrato, but even in her mid 70s, her pitch, phrasing and ability to get to the essence of each piece is consistently high. While she does perform a few standards, including a moving "Blame It On My Youth and "Come Rain Or Come Shine , she offers a stirring rendition of Duke Ellington's title track (a tribute to Florence Mills), warm interpretations of a pair of Alec Wilder chestnuts ("It's So Peaceful in the Country and "Blackberry Winter ), plus the nostalgic original "Mother May I Go Out to Swim . The musicians provide terrific accompaniment throughout the date, which includes some small group settings and even a few duets by Lea and Schoenberg, though on "All By Myself his stride piano playing (in addition to overdubbed tenor sax) may turn a few heads.


Tracks and Personnel

Turn Up the Heath

Tracks: Big P; Heritage Hum; Gemini; Like a Son; I'm Glad There Is You; One for Juan; Project S; Sources Say; No End; Basic Birks

Personnel: Jimmy Heath: leader, tenor sax; Frank Greene, Nick Marchione, Michael Philip Mossman, Terell Stafford, Greg Gisbert, Sean Jones: trumpet; Mark Gross: alto sax, flute; Antonio Hart: alto sax, soprano sax, flute; Bobby LaVell, Charles Davis, Andres Boiarsky: tenor sax; Jay Branford, Gary Smulyan: baritone sax; John Mosca, Slide Hampton, Benny Powell, Steve Davis, Jason Jackson: trombone; Douglas Purviance: bass trombone; Jeb Patton: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Lewis Nash: drums; Lew Tabackin: flute; Joe Gonzales: congas, güiro.

A Fresh Taste of Thad Jones and Frank Foster

Tracks: Counter Block; Mean What You Say; Ode to Joe Newman; Winners; Love Handles; Basic-ally Yours; Victorious Blues; Now That She's Away; The Biddle-De-Bop Samba; Lady in Lace; A Fresh Taste of the Blues

Personnel: Frank Foster: leader, tenor, soprano sax; Thomas Vogel, Don Rader, Karl Farrent, Rudi Reindl, Lubomir Rezanina: trumpet, flugelhorn; Bernd Rabe, Klaus Graf, Peter Weniger, Andi Maile, Rainer Heute, Axel Kühn: reeds; Ernst Hutter, Ludwig Nuss, Ian Cumming, Georg Maus, Marc Godfroid: trombone; Jürgen Wirth: tuba; Klaus Wagenleiter: piano, electric piano; Klaus-Peter Schöpfer: electric guitar; Henning Sieverts: bass; Jörg Gebhardt, Keith Copeland: drums.

Tiger By the Tail

Tracks: So: What (Serious Fun?; You don't Know What Love Is; So You Are: Franco's Delight; Samba du Nancy; Hollow Wind/Passing Time; Get Me Back to the Apple; So If Love's a Triumph of Illusion

Personnel: George Gruntz: leader, piano; Marvin Stamm, Tobias Weidlinger, Kenny Rampton, Jack Walrath, Matthieu Michel, Franco Ambrosetti: trumpet; Dave Bargeron, Luis Bonilla, Gary Valente: trombone; Earl McIntyre: bass trombone; Howard Johnson: tuba, baritone sax; Chris Hunter, Sal Giorgianni, Dave Liebamn, Donny McCaslin, Scott Robinson: reeds; Arie Volinez: electric bass, Danny Gottlieb: drums.

Black Butterfly

Tracks: Black Butterfly; Together; Bend A Little My Way; Restless; My Foolish Heart; How Will I Remember You; It's So Peaceful in the Country; Blame It On My Youth; When They Ask About You; 'Round Midnight; All By Myself; Blackberry Winter; If I Love Again; Mother May I Go Out to Swim; Just Squeeze Me; I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart; Come Rain or Come Shine

Personnel: Barbara Lea: vocals; Seneca Black, Irv Grossman, Brian Pareschi, Randy Sandke, John Eckert: trumpet; Mike Christianson, Eddie Bert, Bobby Pring, Brent Wallarab: trombone; Jack Stuckey: alto sax, flute, clarinet; Jon Gordon: alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet; Chris Madsen: tenor sax, clarinet; Mark Lopeman: tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Loren Schoenberg: tenor sax, piano; Carl Maraghi: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Steve Ash: piano; James Chirillo: electric guitar; Yasushi Nakamura: bass; Kenny Washington: drums.


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