Any list of the year’s ten (or even five) most admirable big–band albums that doesn’t include Live in London should be greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism. Sure, much of the Woody Herman Orchestra’s concert appearance last August at London’s premier Jazz club, Ronnie Scott’s, is comprised of well–worn Herman favorites (“Apple Honey,” “Early Autumn,” Northwest Passage,” “Opus de Funk” and so on) but no one — repeat, no one — plays them with greater passion or awareness than the band that introduced them, ably guided since Woody’s passing thirteen years ago by the professor, Frank Tiberi, and inflamed by one of Jazzdom’s foremost contemporary big–band drummers, the unerring bombardier Jim Rupp, as well as by lead trumpeter John Chudoba’s stratospheric benchmarks. The lone departures from Woody’s familiar book are Joe Zawinul’s perky “Carnavalito” and Avery Parrish’s melancholy blues, “After Hours” (which showcases the orchestra’s superb young pianist, Chip Stephens), although either or both of them may have been played while Woody was alive and leading the band (I’m no historian or discographer, and will consign that to those who are). Completing the program are John Coppola / Vince Guaraldi’s “Cousins,” Alan Broadbent’s bossa “Sugarloaf Mountain” (on which ace trombonist John Fedchock is in typically awesome form, as he is also on “Apple Honey”) and two of Woody’s more unusual choices as big–band staples, Gabriel Faure’s hauntingly lovely “Pavane” (embroidered by Mike Brignola’s bass clarinet and Brian Scanlon’s piccolo trumpet) and Aaron Copland’s classic “Fanfare for the Common Man” (which sways charmingly in Gary Anderson’s Latinized arrangement). One of my personal favorites from the Herman library is Horace Silver’s breezy “Opus de Funk,” and the reading here is energy–intensive, the tempo a tad quicker than on other occasions including Woody’s memorable Capitol Records album of many years ago, Road Band! Almost everyone solos on Opus, with Rupp, Scanlon, Fedchock, bassist Chuck Bergeron and bass trombonist Mark Lusk the only absentees. The rapid–fire opener, “Apple Honey,” incorporates dynamic solos by Stephens, Fedchock, fellow trombonist Paul McKee, trumpeters Mark Lewis and Rob Smith, and tenor (and album producer) John Nugent (the orchestra records for Nugent’s NY Jam label). Stephens, Tiberi (on tenor) and trumpeter Ron Stout invigorate Ralph Burns’ “Early Autumn,” McKee and Stout personify the funky “Cousins,” and Fedchock, Tiberi (on soprano), tenor Billy Ross and baritone Mike Brignola hone their chops on the oldie–but–goodie, “Northwest Passage.” Ross returns (on piccolo) to enliven “Fanfare,” with Nugent also soloing before Rupp delivers an earth–shaking series of well–placed bombs and small artillery and Chudoba ends the concert on a high note, both figuratively and literally. Even though we’ve heard most of these songs many times before, it’s always a pleasure to hear them again — especially when played by the incomparable Thundering Herd, which more than lives up to its name on this high–powered concert date from Merrie Olde England.
Track listing: Apple Honey; Early Autumn; Carnavalito; Cousins; Sugarloaf Mountain; Northwest Passage; After Hours; Pavane; Opus de Funk; Fanfare for the Common Man (68:20).
Frank Tiberi, director, tenor, soprano sax, clarinet; John Nugent, tenor sax; Billy Ross, tenor sax, piccolo; Mike Brignola, baritone sax, bass clarinet; John Chudoba, Rob Smith, Ron Stout, Mark Lewis, trumpet, flugelhorn; Brian Scanlon, trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet; John Fedchock, Paul McKee, trombone; Mark Lusk, bass trombone; Chip Stephens, piano; Chuck Bergeron, bass; Jim Rupp, drums.
Contact: NY Jam Records, 567 10th St., Brooklyn, NY 11215 (phone 718