John Burnett Swing Orchestra: West of State Street/East of Harlem (2008)
The John Burnett Orchestra specializes in forties style big band swing. That is a comfortable zone to be in with the calibre of musicians that Burnett has in his band. They conceptualize the music of the period perfectly, playing with both warmth and verve. What makes it all the more appealing is the deep emotion and wholehearted commitment they bring to the music.
Burnett has chosen from a diverse blend of composers for this recording, and gives the music that big band sound with rare accomplishment. The arrangements sing with feeling, while the soloists add spirit and the sinew. It is all perfectly cast for this delightful live recording.
Trumpeter Randy Sandke is the special guest and shows his mettle on "Night in Tunisia." The tune swings with abandon, set in motion by the brass. Sandke is pithy in his phrasing yet has a lissom air, and when he takes that final note that rises high into the air, he has stamped his class indelibly. The other soloist, Anthony Bruno on tenor saxophone, has a beefy tone, but also a consummate way of letting the melody seep in and hold sway.
New Orleans time comes as they go "Struttin' With Some Barbecue." Sure 'nuff it's hot stuff with Sandke once more turning on the heat which is further stoked to a nice intensity by Bryan Scott on trombone.
Count Basie has to find space and he does with "One O'Clock Jump." The Orchestra lights up the tune, playing dazzling ensemble lines with the soloists characterizing the melody through virtuosic improvisations.
A singer is brought in to make the lyrics come alive, and Frieda Lee documents her presence well on two songs: the melancholy "Anytime, Anyday, Anywhere" and "Ten Cents A Dance." Her voice is full of pathos and passion on the first, and throbs with pain and delusion on the second.
Tony Pons, whose main instrument is the trumpet, gets a chance to show his singing ability on "Hello Dolly." He does a Louis Armstrong vocal in an affectionate way. Pons is fun and judging by the reaction, he communicates that effectively to the audience.
Burnett and his talented cast of musicians have given forties swing a resplendent body and a glowing soul.
Track Listing: Flight Of The Foo Birds; Groovin
Personnel: John Burnett: leader; Frieda Lee: vocals; John Moran: guitar; Nick Mazarella: alto saxophone; Bob Frankich: alto saxophone; Anthony Bruno: tenor saxophone; Doug Stone: tenor saxophone; Bruce Mack: baritone saxophone; Greg Duncan: trumpet; Terry Connell: trumpet; Mike McGrath: trumpet; Tony Pons: trumpet, vocals; Randy Sandke: trumpet; Bryant Scott: trombone; Adam Gross: trombone; Dana Legg: trombone; Bill Walsh: bass trombone; Mark Burnell: piano; Paul Martin: bass instrument; Bill Byan: drums.