Joel Kaye and His Neophonic Jazz Orchestra: Live at Vartan Jazz, Vol. 2 (2000)

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Bandleader Stan Kenton and his chief arranger, Johnny Richards, constructed formidable sound-castles in the ’50s and ’60s. Those pieces and others are given a fresh coat of paint by Joel Kaye’s marvelous 24-piece Neophonic Jazz Orchesta in this dynamic concert appearance, recorded in February ’01 at Vartan Tonoian’s (now-shuttered) Jazz Club in Denver, CO. While Kenton may have been the first to use the word “neophonic” to describe his muscular style of music-making in the mid-'60s, he didn’t copyright it—so Kaye, a former Kenton sideman and devoted admirer of the great man (and one who later played in Richards’ seventeen-piece big band), was free to borrow and use it as his orchestra’s signature. That is only proper, as the NJO has more in common with Stan’s adventurous ensemble than any other. A part of the similarity has to do with instrumentation (like Kenton, Kaye uses the mellophonium — five of them, four of whom double on French horn — and sometimes six saxophones to summon forth the sound he wants). But it becomes even more clear with Kaye’s evocative charts and those by his friend and mentor, Richards, who arranged “Speak Low,” “I Concentrate on You,” “Requerdos” and “La Suerte de los Tontos” (the last two from the Cuban Fire! album) for Kenton. Richards also arranged five others — “On the Street Where You Live,” “Get Me to the Church on Time,” The Rain in Spain,” “Pavanne,” “Plata de Azul” — for his own band. Kaye scored “Caravan” and “I Got Rhythm” and re-orchestrated memorable arrangements by Bill Holman (“Yesterdays,” “What’s New”) and Bill Russo (“Lover Man,” “Sophisticated Lady”).

As a leader, one of the best things Kaye does is name each of the soloists (a helpful acknowledgment not only for the audience but for reviewers as well, as some of them aren’t listed in the album’s booklet). I don’t know how Kaye managed to locate so many world-class players in Colorado, but the evidence is clear and undeniable. Everyone is impressive, with Garner Pruitt (trumpet), Eric McGregor (tenor sax), Tim Libby (mellophonium), John Armstrong (piano) and Pete Lewis (alto sax) the most frequently heard. McGregor is featured on “Yesterdays,” lead trombonist Glenn Shull on “Pavanne,” Libby on “La Suerte de los Tontos,” Pruitt (flugel) on “What’s New.” This is actually Volume 2 of the NJO’s Live at Vartan Jazz, and what we wrote about that other one bears repeating here: “The over-all impression is one of a high-class modern big band in the Kenton image that earns as well as deserves one’s appreciation and applause for carrying on Stan’s tradition of excellence.” This really is high-class Jazz, big-band style, that both Kenton and Richards would surely applaud, and so will you.

Contact: neophonickaye@aol.com

Track Listing: Caravan; On the Street Where You Live; Speak Low; Yesterdays; Get Me to the Church on Time; Pavanne; I Concentrate on You; What

Personnel: Joel Kaye, conductor, soprano sax; Pete Lewis, alto sax; Paul McGinley, alto, tenor sax, piccolo; Eric McGregor, Tom Myer, tenor sax; Franz Roehmann, baritone sax; alternate: Kevin Droe, baritone, bass sax; Tom Baker, Rick Jordon, John Bennett, Don Novy, Gamer Pruitt, trumpet; alternate: Chris Walters; Glenn Shull, Donovan Moore, Alex Heitlinger, trombone; Jace van Bradt, Dave Conway, bass trombone; alternate: Dan Kibler, tuba; Tim Libby, mellophonium; Bill Beckman, Bill O

Record Label: Vartan Jazz

Style: Big Band


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