As the late Raul Romero is one of my favorite unsung big–band composer / arrangers, it saddens me to report that the second edition of Moon Trip 2000 by his Jazz Stars Orchestra is notably less pleasing than the first, which was reviewed about a year or so ago. The fault lies not with the music but with the annoying distortions caused by its apparently direct transfer from vinyl album to compact disc. The surface noise, particularly on the first several tracks, is distressingly audible, and one can actually hear the needle being dropped onto the vinyl surface at the start of most selections. Ron Feuer’s electric piano is especially ill–served, sounding at times more like an over–the–top heavy metal guitar than a keyboard, electric or acoustic. Once past those drawbacks the music is consistently high–grade (except for two raucous numbers by Rick Davis, “Soul Mama Mary” and “Birmingham Jail”). Unfortunately, “Soul Mama Mary” opens the album, so it may be a good idea to skip that one and go directly to track two, Romero’s lush and lyrical “Dreamland.” Romero also wrote “Something for Herbs,” a medium–tempo swinger with ad–lib to match by the great Carl Saunders. Herb Phillips’ breezy samba, “Sun and Sand,” features Feuer on (better–sounding) electric piano, Chuck Forster on flugel and Romero’s only (credited) tenor solo (although I’d bet that’s also him on the finale, “Funky Soul Blues,” which is much better than its name suggests). Davis regains his balance with three admirable charts — the slashing “Funhouse” (solos by alto Joe Bonati and trombonist Ed Morgan), explosive “Jazz Theme” (crisp solos by Feuer, Morgan, alto Charlie McLean, tenor Rod Adams and guitarist Don Overberg, explicit echoes of Johnny Mandel’s “”Not Really the Blues”) and gospel–flavored “A Time of Signs,” on which his biting tenor shares the spotlight with Feuer (again badly distorted), Overberg and trumpeter Billy Hunt. McLean is the soloist (on “electric” alto) on the funky “Birmingham Jail,” but the less said about that the better. The composer of “Funky Soul Blues” is uncredited (as is the tenor) but I suspect that author and soloist are the same — Romero — while Saunders is in all likelihood the featured trumpeter and the (acoustic) pianist must be Feuer, as he’s the only one listed. This is a mixed bag, with high marks for (most of) the music but a less than enthusiastic endorsement thanks to the album’s second–rate sound and LP–length forty–four–minute playing time.
Contact: Americatone International, 1817 Loch Lomond Way, Las Vegas, NV 89102–4437. Phone 702–384–0030; fax 702–382–1926. Web site, www.americatone.com
Track Listing: Soul Mama Mary; Dreamland; Something for Herbs; Sun and Sand; Funhouse; Jazz Theme; A Time of Signs; Birmingham Jail; Funky Soul Blues (44:00).
Personnel: Raul Romero, leader, tenor sax; Charlie McLean, Ben Baile, Rick Davis, Rod Adams, Kenny Hing, Joe Bonati, reeds; Bill Hodges, Billy Hunt, Ron Puckett, Walt Johnson, Merv Harding, Bobby Shew, Carl Saunders, Chuck Forster, trumpet, flugelhorn; Ed Morgan, Archie LeCoque, Carl Fontana, Marty Harrell, Jim Huntzinger, Ralph Pressler, trombone; Dave Wheeler, tuba; Ron Feuer, piano; Harvey Waxman, vibes; Don Overberg, guitar; Orlando “Papito” Hernandez, Santo Savino, drums.