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CMJO Leader Lenny King makes no bones about it. He looks to Stan Kenton and his great arrangers for his musical inspiration. The group plays in the style of the Kenton groups, not in imitation, but more in admiration. This album features arrangements by Bill Holman, Gene Roland, Marty Paich and Lennie Niehaus. It also has a few good orchestrations by members of the band, like Kirk Garrison. Whatever they are performing, the outfit specializes in the same tight, disciplined ensemble work (listen to "Just Friends") and the high-flying solos that characterized Kenton's various aggregations.
The session kicks off with a comparatively calm Gene Roland "Reuben's Blues" with a bass intro by Anthony Brock and catchy solos by Kirk Garrison on trumpet and Frank Catalano on tenor sax. But things speed up rather quickly. "Samba Da Yo" takes us into the realm of Latin rhythms with composers Catalano on tenor and Hary Kozlowski on trombone taking turns at center stage. "Send in the Clowns" recalls those Kenton arrangements which some called pretentious and others, classic. Whatever your disposition, no one can deny the brilliance of the Maynard Ferguson like trumpet of Kirk Garrison on this piece. Kenton penchant for solemn arrangements is represented with a beautiful rendition of "My Old Flame" with Bryan Murray's tender tenor contrasting with the boisterous brass section. Perhaps the most elaborate, high flying, brass cacophony of all Kenton's recordings was Bill Holman's arrangement of" Malaguena". CMJO's performance of this arrangement is as heart stopping as the original. Kenton's foray into modern jazz is remembered with a highly improvised version of "Out of Nowhere" featuring the dissonant tenor sax of Frank Catalano. Leader Lenny King is wise put in a couple of breaks from the pyrotechnics by having wife Joni King step in with some relaxing vocals on "When Sunny Gets Blue" and a nice up tempo, but not frantic, "All of Me".
All of the members of this aggregation are experienced in big band work, either professionally or academically or a combination of both. Some have played with groups headed by Maynard Ferguson and Frank Mantooth. Others teach in successful university jazz programs. Bryan Murray is a graduate of Miles Osland's Jazz Program at the University of Kentucky and has appeared on several of Osland's albums. Kent Lawson, Kirk Garrison and Mark Corey are also members of Chicago's Skyliners Band.
While some of the charts are getting on in age, the performances by this group are fresh, dazzling and exciting. Labor of Love will satisfy the appetites of Kenton and jazz orchestra fans alike. Highly recommended.
Track Listing: Reuben's Blues; Send in the Clowns; Just Friends; My Old Flame; All of Me*; My One and only Love; Take the "A" Train; When Sunny Gets Blue*; Samba Da Yo; A Little Minor Booze; Out of Nowhere; Malaguena
Personnel: Lenny King - Leader; Chris Sarlas, Gary Parker - Alto Sax; Ken Kistner - Alto & Baritone Sax; Bryan Murray, Frank Catalano - Tenor Saxes; Kent Lawson - Baritone Sax; Kirk Garrison, Jim Peterson, Nate Walcott, Ben Clark, Randy Kulik - Trumpet; Hary Kozlowski, Mark Corey, Michael Joyce, Steve Larkin - Trombone; John McAllister - Bass Trombone/Tuba; Mike Flack - Piano; Anthony Brock - Bass; Michael Fiala -Drums; Al Keeler, Jerry Steinhilber - Latin Percussion; Joni King - Vocalist*