Joe Ascione Octet: My Buddy

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When you’re hot, you’re hot. On November 2, 1996 this band took the stage in a Count Basie tribute, billed as the New York All Stars. The next day they entered the studio in a salute to Buddy Rich. The charts are looser, the feeling relaxed – the swing in full bloom. And Joe Ascione (he toured with Buddy’s band – he set up the drums!) is far from the Papa Jo riffs of the night before. With a mixed bag of surprising tunes, the band soars, glides, and makes a big noise. As Joe once thought of Buddy – “How dare anyone be that good!”

While Buddy recorded most of these tunes, most are associated with other performers. You see the songs in a different light – which I bet was the point. “Cottontail” starts with frantic hi-hat – Count Basie at double-time. Billy Mitchell lazes the old swagger – at least as slow at the beat will let him! Randy Sandke starts soft and spiral upward – he might even be pushing the beat. Mark Shane is bluesy and sly – and miles away from yesterday’s Basie. A chorus of Joe (you almost hear the chords!) and “Cottontail” hops away – but the swing remains.

“My Buddy” was played whenever Rich played the Tonight Show. This belongs to the band: high winds and charts by Dan Barrett. When Dan takes a mute, the sound is ages old – and comes from the next room! James Chirillo, with hints of Barney Kessel, is there a moment, and welcome while he stays. Brian Ogilvie doesn’t solo, but his clarinet on the theme is a keeper. Same with “J & B’s Bag”; it’s “After You’ve Gone” with another theme. Mitchell growls with a vengeance; he’s faster than normal, and there’s a taste of Johnny Griffin. The fours are furious, and Mitchell takes the slow ending with relish. You’ll miss it after it’s gone.

“Here’s That Rainy Day” is a gentle yawn, the sun rising on a sad a feeling. The brass covers Ogilvie as the alto cries – a pure sound shining through the deep haze. It was Buddy’s favorite ballad; this helps you see why. “Limehouse Blues” has a fun chart: horns in the background, rhythm up front. The riffs are great; the solos short but sharp. A team effort is there ever was. “Nica’s Dream” is another taste entirely. Sandke is sad and alone; a Latin beat steps in little taps and deep toms, with cymbals and other decorations tossed in as needed. It lightens briefly when the horn returns, but the menace remains, up to the endless fadeout. The natives are definitely restless.

For once, “Soft Winds” is soft: Ogilvie, in the Goodman part, is delightfully warm. Chirillo is low and sneaky – the horn riffs make him bolder. Ogilvie tries some vibrato, and Barrett whispers the weary blues as Joe cleans up with the brushes. “I Want to Be Happy” is Mitchell and some furious stride. A well-played solo is a joy forever: it’s the best of the album, and Shane is close to matching him. “Love for Sale” has Sandke brash and Mitchell up to the task. He boils; Chirillo keeps it steaming with another look at Kessel. The closing blues is very long and very slow, a smoky bar with no reason to close. Mitchell despairs; Shane prods him on. Barrett moans, and Sandke shouts through his mute. A great blistering squeal, it takes the number, and the band lends its support. When Chirillo gets the single-string going, you’ll think the blues will never end – and you’ll be glad.

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream

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