To anyone who may be wondering why Rob McConnell would devote an entire album to music that is almost eight decades old, all I can say is, “listen.” Not only don’t they write ‘em like that anymore, they almost never play ‘em this way either. Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Victor Herbert, Sigmund Romberg, Jimmy McHugh and other legendary Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths have seldom sounded fresher or more fashionable than in this dazzling tour de force by McConnell’s spectacular Tentet, thanks on the one hand to Rob’s bright and imaginative arrangements (and one by Rick Wilkins) and on the other to the ensemble’s scintillating performance.
Almost everyone in the all-star Tentet is showcased on at least one number, and everyone gets into the solo act on the hot-blooded opener, Rodgers and Hart’s “Thou Swell” (from A Connecticut Yankee, 1927). “I’ve often wondered how I could feature everyone in this band on one number,” Rob writes. “This is the answer.” And what an answer it is, with McConnell’s nimble valve trombone pointing the way toward shimmering solos by all hands. R&H are also represented by “With a Song in My Heart” (1929; solos by tenor Mike Murley, pianist Dave Restivo), Berlin by “Remember” (1925; chart by Wilkins, solos by Restivo and bassist Steve Wallace), “Always” (1925; featuring Guido Basso, flugelhorn) and “What’ll I Do” (1924; Steve McDade, trumpet).
Alto P.J. Perry is the headliner on Romberg’s mercurial “Lover Come Back to Me” (1928). Trombonist Terry Promane softly caresses the melody and Murley solos on the Gershwins’ “How Long Has This Been Going On” (1927), while McConnell and Restivo are the main men on McHugh’s “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love with Me” (1926), tenor Alex Dean and drummer Terry Clarke on Porter’s “You Do Something to Me” (1929).
Romberg’s carefree “Indian Summer” (1929) is briefly paired with the only song that doesn’t date from the ‘20s, “Summertime,” written in 1935 by George and Ira Gershwin, DuBose Heyward and Dorothy Fields for the folk opera Porgy and Bess. The soloists are Dean and Wallace (“Indian Summer”) and Basso (muted on “Summertime”). “I decided,” says Rob, “that a small tribute to Miles Davis and Gil Evans with a bit of ‘Summertime’ at the end [of ‘Indian Summer’] would be OK.” And indeed it is. That covers everything except the loosely swinging Kay Swift / Paul James standard from 1929, “Can’t We Be Friends,” on which McConnell states the melody and Wallace is the featured soloist.
About the only decision one has to make when listening to McConnell’s Tentet (as was true of the late and grievously lamented Boss Brass) is, which is more impressive, Rob’s arrangements or the ensemble itself? And as is always the case, the “competition” has to be ruled a draw. When all is said and done, it’s simply impossible to choose between perfect and flawless.
One thing is sure, and that is that whenever McConnell and his ensemble come together to record, there is more musical talent in that one studio than in all the rock bands in the universe. No matter what the era, the Rob McConnell Tentet makes every song truly irresistible. Another clear-cut winner.
Personnel: Guido Basso, Steve McDade, trumpet, flugelhorn; P.J. Perry, alto sax; Mike Murley, Alex Dean, tenor sax; Rob McConnell, Terry Promane, trombone; Dave Restivo, piano; Steve Wallace, bass; Terry Clarke, drums.