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This affectionate tribute to Stan Kenton (and to composer/arranger Johnny Richards and trombonist Dick Shearer) by trumpeter Mike Vax and the "Kenton Alumni Band" was recorded onstage at the 25th anniversary Morningside (Iowa) College Jazz Festival in February 1997. It has the reverberant ambiance of a concert date too, which is especially noticeable in the sound of Gary Hobbs's drums, John Akai's percussion and levels that vary among soloists. Putting that aside, the band (15 of whose members played at some time in Kenton's orchestra) is first-class, as is the choice of music, some of which was wholly new to these ears (including the lovely "Eurydice," the last piece written by Richards; another of his later compositions, "Fata Morgana," and Dee Barton's elegant waltz, "The Singing Oyster,"). Also included are John Leubke's lively "Samba da Gamba," Willie Maiden's "A Little Minor Booze," (The 1,000,00th) "Peanut Vendor," Richard Raven's Ted Heath-style arrangement of "Along Came Bill" (from the Broadway musical Showboat), and the standards "You Are So Beautiful," "Makin' Whoopee, "I Remember You" and "Yesterdays," the last two in their classic Bill Holman finery. "Yesterdays," usually performed by Kenton's tenor sax star of the moment (Bill Perkins, Richie Kamuca, Richard Torres), showcases Chuck Carter's growling baritone. "Morgana" is a volcanic Latin chart, reminiscent of those penned by Richards for the album "Cuban Fire!" Nelson Riddle arranged "Makin' Whoopee" to spotlight the bass trombone of George Roberts. "Along Came Bill" features a stratospheric duet between Vax and co-lead trumpet Dennis Noday. Mary Fettig's dancing flute enlivens "Peanut Vendor," and she solos again (on flute and tenor) with Vax, Carter, Hobbs and Akai on the flag-waving finale, "Samba da Gamba," which captures perfectly the incomparable spirit of Kenton. Another 70 minutes well spent.
Track listing: A Little Minor Booze; Europa; Eurydice; I Remember You; You Are So Beautiful; The Singing Oyster; Yesterdays; Fata Morgana; Makin; Whoopee; Peanut Vendor; Along Came Bill; Samba da Gamba (70:12).
Mike Vax, trumpet, leader; Steve Wilkerson, alto sax; Chuck Carter, alto, baritone sax; Mary Fettig, tenor sax, flute; Roy Reynolds, tenor sax; Joel Kaye, baritone, bass sax; Dennis Noday, Mike Gurciullo, Steve Campos, Jim Oatts, trumpet; Roy Wiegand, Conrad Herwig, Denny Brunk, trombone; Bill Hartman, George Roberts, bass trombone; Don Hass, piano; Jim Widner, bass; John Akai, percussion; Gary Hobbs, drums. French horns (from the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra) Ilan Adar, Jane Berger, Mike Berger, Stephanie Irish, Clarence Riley.