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Looking at the song list of Bill O'Connell's fine Chicago Skyliners Big Band latest album, one gets a sinking feeling that the band had regressed to regurgitating big band tunes and arrangements of yore, especially given the album subtitle, Big Band's Greatest Hits. But this concerns goes away when the CD is put into the player. This high flying group doesn't play familiar material exactly the way Artie Shaw, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey did and especially the way Glenn Miller played it. Instead there's a more modern bent which energizes the players and excites the listener (although April in Paris retains much of the Basie flavor, with a spoof of "one more time" at the end). This is especially the case with solos. Jon Irabagon's alto on "A String of Pearls" is quite different than Tex Beneke might have approached the tune. The same is true with a wild individual effort by Bob Frankich on "Opus One" helped by a few on point measures from Steve Hashimoto's bass. Not all the cuts are from the big band era. Tom Kubis' play on words "Which Craft" is highlighted by a eye opening solo by first rank tenor Frank Catalano.
The vocal side of the era isn't forgotten. Byron Woods' hip style is heard on the tune made famous by Joe Williams "Alright, Okay, You Win" and then "Fly Me to the Moon". The latter features some Don Fagerquist like trumpet by Terry Connell in that it focuses on being lyrical rather than technically daring. Connell saves his high note exercise for "Begin the Beguine".
The same elements which characterize a Bill O'Connell session, interesting charts, tight ensemble playing and wonderful dynamics are found here on this latest release, with O'Connell presiding from behind the drum set. Very much recommended.
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; String of Pearls; Sing Sing Sing; Take the "A" Train
Personnel: Bill O'Connell - Drums; Bill Horn - Alto Sax/Clarinet; Jon Irabagon - Alto Sax; Bob Frankich, Frank Catalano - Tenor Sax; Chip Gdalman - Baritone Sax; Mike Joyce, Rich Latka, Tom Stark, 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; Will Koch - Conductor