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This is the kind of album, says drummer Bill O'Connell, that his Chicago Skyliners must release from time to time to induce the paying gigs that help keep the ensemble together. But even though the songs on Big Bands Greatest Hits are for the most part Swing Era classics, the charts have been lovingly renovated by such contemporary craftsmen as Sammy Nestico, Tom Kubis, Oliver Nelson, Don Sebesky, Dave Wolpe and others, and the Skyliners dig into them with vigor and enthusiasm. As a result, the finished product sounds closer to Clayton""Hamilton, Maynard Ferguson or latter""day Woody Herman than to such swinging precursors as Basie, Ellington, Lunceford, Sy Oliver, Glenn Miller, the Dorsey brothers, Shaw or Goodman, to name but a few. Perhaps the closest the Skyliners come to mimicry is Dave Lowden's celebrated arrangement for Basie of "April in Paris, but O'Connell can't resist tossing another curve by altering the familiar "one more time ending. The leader gets to play Gene Krupa (to Bill Horn's Goodman) on Louis Prima's "Sing Sing Sing, which raised the King of Swing to the top of the big""band ladder in '38, and anchors a potent rhythm section (pianist Reid Spears, bassist Steve Hashimoto) on every number from Joe Garland's "In the Mood (rearranged by Jeff Tyzik) to Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train (updated by Don Sebesky). There are vocals by Byron Woods on "Alright, Okay, You Win and "Fly Me to the Moon and a number of enterprising solos, especially by Horn (mostly on alto), tenors Bob Frankich and Frank Catalano, trumpeters Jim Peterson and Terry Connell, Spears and trombonist Mike Joyce. The terrain is well""traveled, that's true, but mapped in a fresh and inventive way by O'Connell's intrepid Skyliners. And like the era they so happily salute, they do swing.
Contact:Blue Birdland Records, 915 Christa Court, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007; phone 847""352""2455. web site, http://members.aol.com/ChiSkyBB (also available from Kendor, Marina Music and Otter Distributors).
Track Listing: In the Mood; Things Ain?t What They Used to Be; Mack the Knife; Who Can I Turn To?; Begin the Beguine; In a Mellow Tone; Stardust; Which Craft; Alright, Okay, You Win; Fly Me to the Moon; Shiny Stockings; April in Paris; Opus One; A String of Pearls; Sing Sing Sing; Take the ?A? Train (64:56).
Personnel: Bill O?Connell, leader, drums; Bill Horn, alto sax, flute; Jon Irabagon, alto sax; Bob Frankich, Frank Catalano, tenor sax; Chip Gdalman, baritone sax; Mike Joyce, Tom Stark, Rich Latka, Matt McDonald, Rich Moss, trombone; Brad Payne, bass trombone; Terry Connell, Jim Peterson, B.J. Levy, Ben Clark, trumpet; Reid Spears, piano; Steve Hashimoto, bass; Byron Woods, vocals.