From its inception in 1966, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra has been a New York institution attracting the best musicians from that City. Typically, when the driving forces for an organization depart, in this case founders Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, their organization eventually falls apart or becomes a tribute band. Not so here, as the music continues on in high form with fresh charts and fueled by some of the Big Apple's premiere jazz artists. That is the essence of an institution, it transcends mere personalities and survives on the basis of a vehicle for creative modern big band music. Their latest album for the Planet Arts label pays tribute to the writer Juliane Cavadini who contributed "A Simple Wish" and "Can I Persuade You" to the play list and who died at the untimely age of 31. Both of these melodies flow like a majestic river with the thematic statement made on "A Simple Wish" by the deep richness of the horn section, while on "Can I Persuade You" the theme is stated by Dick Oatts on alto sax riding over delicate insertions by piano and horns, including the mellow French horn of Peter Gordon. These two cuts represent big band concertizing in it highest artistic form. The big band staple "Just Friends", arranged by Bill Holman, is given an almost 13 minute ride by the group, kicking off with Jim McNeely's piano over the walking bass and lightly clashing cymbals of Dennis Irwin and John Riley, respectively, the rest of the group comes in. This is not Les Brown's way of doing this song. Rather it's a passionate, visceral and sometimes avant-garde rendition which makes it hard sometimes to catch the melody. There are excellent solos on this track by Gary Smulyan, Billy Drewes, Ralph LaLama, Oatts, Rich Perry and Riley again. All in all, this is modern big band playing at its ultimate by an aggregation that is as much as New York institution as the New York Philharmonic.
Track Listing: Dragon Fly; Antigua; A Simple Wish; ESP; Sophisticated Lady; Bachafillen; Can I Persuade You; Just Friends
Personnel: Earl Gardner, Joe Mosello, Glenn Drewes, Scott Wendholt - Trumpet; John Mosca , Luis Bonilla, Jason Jackson, Douglas Purviance - Trombone; Dick Oatts - Alto & Soprano Sax/Flute; Billy Drewes - Alto & Soprano Sax/flute/clarinet; Rich Perry - Tenor Sax/Flute; Ralph Lalama - Tenor Sax/Flute/Clarinet; Gary Smulyan/Bass Clarinet, Baritone Sax; Jim McNeely - Piano; John Riley - Drums; Dennis Irwin - Bass; Daduka da Fonseca - Brazilian Percussion; Peter Gordon - French Horn