One problem I have with many of these big–band anthologies is that they’re composed of a few “classics” and a lot of other songs the band likes to play. This is true to a degree in Ralph Carmichael’s salute, but at least the bona fide classics chosen by Carmichael outnumber the rest (by as many as twelve to four or at least ten to six according to my count). And even when using the phrase “big band swing classic” means stretching the definition near its breaking point (as on “My Favorite Things,” for example, or “Fly Me to the Moon”), Carmichael’s intrepid corps of Southern California–based stalwarts plays each of them with precision and panache. Even so, these fresh versions are as a rule far too close to the originals to inflame the emotions of anyone who has heard them before (and there probably aren’t many, at least of my generation, who haven’t). In some cases, as on Glenn Miller’s theme, “In the Mood,” even the solos remain unaltered. Speaking of solos, each of the trumpeters is given at least one, with other respectable choruses along the way by altos Hoehne and Lozano, tenors Buckner and Neumann, drummer Smith (whose brushes enliven Neal Hefti’s “Cute”), trombonist Kaplan and pianist Hugenberger. There are a handful of more contemporary charts (Tom Kubis’s “When You’re Smilin’,” Sammy Nestico’s “I’m Beginning to See the Light”) but these are the exception. Some may deem this appropriate — why change a classic? — while others may argue, why bother to repeat the past? And of course, there are valid points to be made on both sides. One’s opinion of this album may rest largely on his or her familiarity with these well–traveled tunes. It would seem from this vantage point that it is directed toward the younger listener who may have been only recently introduced to swing and wishes to hear what all the fuss was about. If that is indeed the case, it’s an admirable and reasonably accurate starting point.
Track listing: A String of Pearls; My Favorite Things; Fly Me to the Moon; In the Mood; When You’re Smilin’; Cute; I Can’t Stop Loving You; Take the “A” Train; Li’l Darlin’; I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm; I’m Beginning to See the Light; Moonlight Serenade; Sing, Sing, Sing; One O’Clock Jump; Begin the Beguine; The Kid from Red Bank (55:35).
Wayne Bergeron, Frank Szabo, Rick Baptist, Greg Prechet, trumpet; Lloyd Ulyate, Alan Kaplan, Dave Beatty, Craig Ware, trombone; Sal Lozano, Bill Hoehne, alto sax; Roger Neumann, Tom Buckner, tenor sax; Kim Hutchcroft, baritone sax; Mark Hugensberger, keyboards; Steve Wilkinson, bass; Ed Smith, drums.