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Klaus Lessmann, conductor of Italy’s Siena Jazz Band, leaves no doubt as to where his musical sentiments lie, as seven of the first ten selections on the band’s debut album, GOP, are associated with the peerless Duke Ellington, the last seven with the great alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley. Completing the program are Count Basie’s “Swingin’ the Blues,” Lester Young’s “Tickle Toe” and Ella Fitzgerald’s breakthrough hit, “A Tisket, a Tasket,” the last a curious choice for vocalist Laura Bigliazzi whose pleasing voice is neutralized by a lisp that is most prominent when she has to pronounce the letter “s.” Bigliazzi is also heard on Ellington’s “Big City Blues” and “All Too Soon” (on which the lisp is thankfully less noticeable). The first part of the program glides smoothly albeit rather uneventfully along, but the second is more problematic, as Adderley’s bop / funk essays (and those of brother Nat) don’t lend themselves as readily to big–band adaptations (at least, not to this one). The ensemble does the best it can with Lessmann’s charts, but they are more cumbersome than audacious, and don’t swing nearly as hard or as often as Cannonball’s pared–down originals. Of course, some of that may have to do with the fact that neither Julian nor Nat is anywhere to be seen or heard. Nat’s “Work Song” works best, thanks in part to a bright arrangement by Lessmann, his luminous soprano solo and productive choruses by trumpeter Maurizio Pasqui and guitarist Diego Perugini. As a rule, however, the ensemble seems more comfortable with Ellington / Basie, even though there’s nothing in its arsenal — nor should there be — that is in any way comparable to either of those masters. But for a band that was pieced together about seven years ago by a handful of musicians (only one trombone; tenor saxophones had to double the parts), Lessman’s ensemble — a part of the twenty–five–year–old Associazone Siena Jazz — isn’t bad at all. To his credit, Lessmann keeps the focus where it should be, on the ensemble, as there aren’t — yet — any breathtaking solo voices in the band (Lessman is one of the ablest, on saxophone or clarinet). Tempos are generally a tad more sluggish than need be (“Perdido” and “Jive Samba” are prominent examples) but time should remedy that shortcoming. The Siena band has made great progress in a relatively short time, and charting its progress from here on should be a most fascinating endeavor. Meanwhile, one can relish on this album the first fruits of its alliance.
Track Listing: The Mooche; Stompy Jones; Big City Blues; Swingin