David Berger's credentials are wide-ranging and impeccable: transcribing 500 Ellington recordings, leading the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, teaching at the Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard. I Had the Craziest Dream is precise, hot and lively, honoring Harry Warren, a deserving 20th-century popular composer less well known than Berlin, Gershwin, or Porter. In addition to the 12 songs on this CD, Warren created "You're Getting To Be A Habit With Me," "There Will Never Be Another You" and over two dozen melodies that continue to offer fine material for jazz improvisation.
Berger's flexible octet seems wholly original without losing sight of essential jazz and popular music traditions. His writing recalls the best big band arrangements without a hint of nostalgia, neatly balancing improvised solo work with tightly-arranged charts, leavened by energized playing and solos. He has wonderful players who deserve attention both as soloists and ensemble players. The rhythm sectionpianist Isaac ben Ayala, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Jimmy Madisonis especially witty, propulsive and concise. Guest saxophonists Harry Allen and Joe Temperley are renowned swing players who caress melodies with fervor and gracehear their five chase choruses on "Jeepers Creepers."
Although Warren's melodies are beautiful enough to be savored as written, Berger's program is clearly jazz-oriented, including the aforementioned "Jeepers Creepers," a shouting "Gold Diggers' Song," a trotting boogie-woogie reimagining of "On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe" and a Wild West take on "I'm An Old Cowhand." But the most memorable moments are the slow and medium-tempo explorationsTemperley's sorrowing delicacy on "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Allen's yearning "You'll Never Know," altoist Matt Hong sweet and tart on "September in the Rain," trumpeter Brian Pareschi's pensive, glowing "Serenade in Blue," worthy of Clifford Brown, and the rarely-heard "Summer Night," where trombonist Marshall Gilkes shines.
Track Listing: Jeppers Creepers; You'll Never Know; September in the Rain; On the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe; Summer Night; I Had The Craziest Dream; Boulevard of Broken Dreams; I Found A Million-Dollar Baby (In A Five-and-Ten Cent Store); Serenade in Blue; I Only Have Eyes For You; I'm An Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande); The Gold Diggers' Song.
Personnel: David Berger: arranger, conductor; Brian "Fletch" Pareschi: trumpet; Marshall Gilkes: trombone; Matt Hong: alto sax; Harry Allen: tenor sax; Joe Temperley: baritone sax; Isaac ben Ayala: piano; Yasushi Nakamura: bass; Jimmy Madison: drums.