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As I've mentioned before, my brother Tom swears he can tell the difference between male and female jazz musicians, especially in big bands. To test his ability to do so, I cobbled together a CD comprised of selections from the DIVA Jazz Orchestra's first three albums, slapped a fictitious male name on the label and sent it to him. Several months have passed and he hasn't figured it out yet. But I shouldn't be too hard on my brotherwith eyes closed, I couldn't separate DIVA from its male counterparts either. To those who appreciate a strapping big band whose strong suit is swinging, my advice would be to close your eyes, open your ears and fall in love with DIVA's newest album, Live in Concert, recorded last June for an enthusiastic audience at Pittsburgh's Manchester Craftsmen's Guild.
There's much to admire, from the close-cropped ensemble work, impressive solos and rock-ribbed rhythm section to the picturesque charts by Maricle, Scott Whitfield, John McNeil, Dennis Mackrel, Bob Parsons, and Rich Shemaria. Beyond that, one can envision DIVA's proficiency and confidence rising as Maricle and creative director Stanley Kay keep pushing the envelope and the band responds with one marvelous performance after another. This one opens with Kay's high-stepping "Did You Do That?" and includes four compositions by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong's "Swing That Music," Peter Appleyard's "Slambo," James Cavanaugh's "Umbrella Man," the Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler standard "I've Got the World on a String,"' and one more by Kay, the swivel-hipping flagwaver, "'How Ya Doin'?" Warm-blooded tenors Anat Cohen and Scheila Gonzalez are showcased on "Did You Do That?," alto Karolina Strassmayer on Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss," Strassmayer and fellow alto Kristy Norter on "How Ya Doin'?" Baritone Lisa Parrott thunders twice, with Cohen (soprano) on Whitfield's spiraling arrangement of the Duke's "Rockin' in Rhythm'," and with bassist Noriko Ueda on "World on a String."
"Umbrella Man," once played by the improbable duet of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong on an early-'50s television variety show hosted by Jackie Gleason, features trumpeters Jami Dauber ('in the role of Dizzy Gillespie') and Barbara Laronga ('as Satchmo'). No pressure there. No imitation either, as Dauber and Laronga put their own charming spin on the fast-paced novelty tune with staunch support from Maricle, the ensemble and pianist Chihiro Yamanaka. The trumpet section flexes its collective muscles on 'Swing that Music,' and is blessed to have Sgt. Liesl Whitaker, on leave from the US Army Blues, leading the charge as she does on every number. Dauber and trombonist Deborah Weisz (muted) implant earnest commentary on Ellington's "In a Mellotone," as do Laronga, Maricle, Gonzalez and Ueda on "Slambo," Yamanaka, Norter and bass trombonist Leslie Havens on Rich Shemaria's evocative treatment of Ellington's "I'm Gonna Go Fishin'."'
You may open your eyes now. Hey, that wasn't so bad, was it? An appetizing seventy-four-minute banquet of dauntless big-band jazz by fifteen women who really know how to cook, and we don't mean in the kitchen. Eat your heart out, brother Tomlike another heavyweight, first name Evander, DIVA's the real deal.
Track Listing: Did You Do That?; Rockin? in Rhythm; In a Mellotone; Slambo; Prelude to a Kiss;
Umbrella Man; I?ve Got the World on a String; How Ya Doin'?; Swing That Music; I?m
Gonna Go Fishin' (74:34).