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William (he used to be called "Bill") Russo, with his Chicago Jazz Ensemble as his medium, is the unabashed keeper of the flame for Stan Kenton's music. Despite his detractors, Kenton's organization was the breeding ground for a host of white jazz musicians who went on to greater glory. Kenton also fostered and demanded imaginative and innovative charts. His stable of arrangers was unmatched by most orchestras in the number he carried at any one time or the quality of material they produced.
The Ensemble's second release is a live performance covering two periods of Kenton history. The first is from 1943-47 when the band was coming into its own mostly on the shoulders of Pete Rugolo and Gene Roland. The second is from the1952-54 portion of Russo's stint with Kenton. The result is pure Kenton played by modern jazz players, challenged by the knowledge that some of jazz's best performers are associated with this music. "Collaboration" is an update of a haunting 1943 Rugolo chart. Here the solo challenge is successfully met by trombonist Tom Garling. "Frank Speaking" is a Russo chart featuring Frank Rosolino putting Garling once more front and center. From the earlier period "Eager Beaver" and "Peanut Vendor" are put through the brass blaring wringer that was uniquely Kenton's. Lest we forget that the band was the starting point for some good singers, Vicki Stokes takes on June Christy "Ain't No Misery in Me" as Pat Mallinger does the honors on alto. Singer Bobbi Wilsyn plays Christy on "Shoo Fly Pie". Thomas Gunther must be recognized for an outstanding job in filling Kenton's pianist shoes.
This album is a must for those who relish outstanding arrangements for very big bands - - in this case, 20 instrumentalists - as well as for Stan Kenton fans. It's time for the latter to come out of the closet and enjoy Russo's tribute to the man.
Track Listing: Frank Speaking; Ain't No Misery; Lover Man; Peanut Vendor; 23 Degrees North 82 Degrees West; Shoo Fly Pie; Resist; Collaboration; Blues Before and After; Eager Beaver; Portrait of a Count; Road Runner
Personnel: William Russo - Conductor; Pat Mallinger, Tyrone Tatum, Jim Gailloreto, Tim McNamara, Ted Hogarth - Saxes; Mark Olen, Orbert Davis, Scott Hall, Art Hoyle, Chuck Parrish - Trumpets; Audrey Morrison, Tom Garling, Steve Berry, Tracy Kirk, Fritz Hocking - Trombones; Thomas Gunther - Piano; Frank Dawson - Guitar; Dan Anderson - Bass; Frank Parker - Drums; Alejo Poveda - Conga; Bobbi Wilsyn, Vikki Stokes - Vocals