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Diva, according to Webster, is the female derivation of the Latin word divus — in English, “divine” — which is as accurate a term as any to use when describing drummer Sherrie Maricle’s high–powered New York–based big band whose third recording, I Believe in You, crackles with the sort of energy and passion inspired by Maricle’s peerless role model, the late Buddy Rich. When I first heard DIVA a number of years ago the band was quite good; today, in spite of the unavoidable changes in personnel, it is even better. Staying together and rehearsing regularly enriches any band, and for that we must thank Maricle, Stanley Kay, Mike Abene, Tommy Newsom and the many others who support DIVA and help keep it going. On the evidence here, there’s not much these women can’t do, and do as well as anyone. Section work is as tight as Camryn Mannheim’s corset, and the band swings without pause at any tempo. As with any topnotch ensemble, everything starts with the lead trumpet, and DIVA has one of the best in Liesl Whitaker (for confirmation, listen to her impressive sky–notes on the ballad “In a Sentimental Mood” and her bold command throughout). As we mentioned, there are several newcomers on the date, and Maricle puts them right to work. Claire Daly’s successor, baritone saxophonist Lisa Parrott, solos on the breezy opener, “I Feel Pretty,” and is featured on Ellington’s “Sentimental Mood.” Alto saxophonist Karoline Strassmeyer, Laura Dreyer’s talented legatee, is showcased on Scott Whitfield’s volcanic arrangement of “Limehouse Blues” and solos as well on “I Believe in You,” “The Claw” and “You and the Night and the Music” (the last a framework for Maricle’s dazzling drum–kit artistry). Barbara Laronga is featured on Abene’s sultry Streisand–like arrangement of “Happy Days Are Here Again” (flugel) and solos on “I Believe in You” (trumpet). DIVA often performs in concert its tribute to Ella Fitzgerald (arranged by Newsom), and here alto Kristy Norter has her turn on “Stompin’ at the Savoy” while pianist Lorraine Desmarais and bassist Debbie Kennedy are heard on “Lady Be Good.” Laronga, Jami Dauber and Lolly Bienenfeld comprise a delightful Andrews sisters–style vocal group on “A Tisket, a Tasket.” Among the holdovers, trombonist Deborah Weisz shines on “’Tis Autumn,” Dauber on “I Feel Pretty” (opening with a quote from “Killer Joe”) and tenor Cynthia Mullis on “The Claw” and “You and the Night and the Music.” The charts, by Newsom, Whitfield, Abene, Ellen Rowe and John McNeil, give the ensemble plenty of nourishing meat to chew on, and they devour each one with unbridled enthusiasm. This is one of the country’s foremost working bands, period. The more you listen, the more you hear. For a truly memorable experience, catch DIVA in person; if you can’t do that, here’s the best alternative.
Track listing: I Feel Pretty; Limehouse Blues; Happy Days Are Here Again; I Believe in You; A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald (How High the Moon / Stompin’ at the Savoy / Undecided / A Tisket, a Tasket / Lady Be Good); In a Sentimental Mood; The Claw; ’Tis Autumn; You and the Night and the Music (55:37 ).