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Seattle–based Pony Boy Records has carved a niche for itself within the neo–swing movement, and saxophonist Charlie May’s big band fits snugly in that groove on this live recording that showcases the talents of veteran arranger Gaylord Jones. May, who has been leading his “Opus One” band for a dozen years, assembled this one — at least part of it — on the afternoon of its appearance at Red Kelly’s in Tacoma. Some of the sidemen are leaders in their own right including saxophonist Bill Ramsay, trumpeter Jay Thomas and drummer Greg Williamson (who’s also the foreman at Pony Boy). Besides taking most (if not all) of the tenor sax solos, May also handles the vocals, singing in a charming but unschooled manner (on “Time After Time,” “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You,” “Mack the Knife,” “There Will Never Be Another You”) that reminds one of another reedman / bandleader, the late Woodrow Charles Herman. The ensemble even sounds a bit like the Woodchopper’s earlier groups (he once led “the band that plays the blues”), although it swings far more moderately than the later, more impassioned Herds. Jones, from the Billy May / Nelson Riddle / Sy Oliver school, began arranging for Freddie Slack’s band in the early ’40s and scored a hit with “Rifette,” which leads off the album. That’s the only non–standard on the menu; everything else is almost instantly recognizable, having been written by such Tin Pan Alley heavyweights as Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Harold Arlen, Ned Washington, Jimmy van Heusen, Ted Koehler, Jule Styne, Harry Warren and others. Jones’s charts, although by no means radical, are well–shaped and pleasing to the ear, and the band gives each of them its due. The recording is topnotch, the playing time generous, the audience enthusiastic. A first–rate session for those who appreciate classic big–band swing.
Track Listing: Rifette; Undecided; Fly Me to the Moon; Time After Time; But Beautiful / You Go to My Head / You Are Too Beautiful; Jeepers Creepers; Blue Skies; Gee Baby Ain
Personnel: Charlie May, leader, tenor sax solos, vocals; Gaylord Jones, arranger; Bill Ramsay, Tracy Knoop, alto sax; Jim Coile, Saul Kline, tenor sax; Greg Metcalf, baritone sax; Randy Lintoff, Jay Roulston, Lance Buller, Jay Thomas, trumpet; Gary Shutes, Dan Marcus, Dave Marriott, Dave Bentley, trombone; John Hansen, piano; Dave Peterson, guitar; Larry Holloway, bass; Greg Williamson, drums.