Vezinho - Ward Big Band / Phil Norman Tentet / Kluvers Big Band / Doug Hamilton Jazz Band
Ed Vezinho - Jim Ward Big Band
With Friends Like These...
Dream Box Media
It's hard to believe that almost nine years have passed since I was blown away by the Ed Vezinho-Jim Ward Big Band's debut album, Smile. After hearing the first five numbers on that CD I was so excited that I called my brother Tom in Florida. "You've gotta hear this incredible trumpet section!" I said, and played parts of the album for him over the phone. Now, as we enter the year 2009, the band has released its third recording, With Friends Like These..., and lo and behold, almost nothing has changed. Yes, the charts are new (all arranged, as usual, by co-captain/lead alto Vezinho) but the ensemble is as sharp and sturdy as ever, the soloists as engaging as one could wish for on any big-band album.
The program, as on the previous studio dates, is a charming amalgam of standards and originals (half a dozen each) including four tasteful compositions by Vezinhothe playfully named and fast-paced "Hat Out of Bell," buoyant and brassy "Trumpetland," forceful and funky "Runnin' Away from You" and rock-inflected title selection. Among the "standards" are a couple of unforeseen yet no less pleasurable surprisesa contemporary look at J.S. Bach's lyrical ode to "Joy" and a snappy waltz-time version of Martin Charnin/Charles Strouse's "Maybe," most memorably sung by pre-teen Andrea McArdle in the smash Broadway musical Annie (and featuring an unannounced guest, tenor saxophonist Skip Spratt).
Spratt is one of a number of splendid artists whose names aren't to be found among the personnel (or in Bob Perkins' otherwise adequate liner notes) including soprano saxophonist Ron Kerber (showcased on his own composition, "Jofa"), baritone Denis DiBlasio and flugel George Rabbai ("Secret Love"), tenor Michael Pedicin and flugel Al Harrison ("All the Way"), tenor Larry McKenna ("I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face"), flautist Robert Rawlins ("Joy"), trumpeter Pete Colangelo ("Trumpetland") and guitarist Brian Betz ("Runnin' Away"). Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" is a tour de force for the band's marvelous baritone saxophonist, Stan Weiss.
There is one other minor change in that Ward shares lead trumpet duties not only with Joe Scannella ("Trumpetland," "I'll Be Around," "With Friends," "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face"), as before, but with Dennis Wasko ("All the Way") and Dave Kennedy ("Jofa"). Even without its (undesignated) guest artists, this is one well-tailored, persistently swinging big band. With them on board (and playing marvelously), With Friends Like These... rises to a level akin to awe-inspiring. To phrase it another way, the V-WBB's third album is by any measure as admirable and rewarding as its predecessors, and no further endorsement is necessary.
The Phil Norman Tentet
"Totally" Live at Catalina Jazz Club
"Totally" Live at Catalina Jazz Club, the fourth album by Phil Norman's consistently admirable and invigorating Southern California-based Tentet (actually a ten-member group plus Norman's tenor sax) is the second recorded in concert, an inspired two-CD set lovingly dedicated to the memory of one of its fallen leaders, the renowned composer/arranger/pianist Bob Florence who passed away in May 2008. While Christian Jacob sits in at the keyboard, Florence's presence enhances the session via two of his singular compositions ("Frothy," "A Joyful Noise") and a pair of well-crafted arrangements (Miles Davis' "All Blues," Bill Holman's "Theme and Variations").
Besides having enlisted Florence, who served as a linchpin of the ensemble from its inception, Norman has had the luxury of trolling for talent in the vast pool of superlative musicians in the Los Angeles area, a number of whom either lead groups of their own or play prominent roles in others or as first-call studio musicians. As a result, he can rest assured that come what may, these gentlemen will always deliver a topnotch performance, as indeed they do here on every number, from Med Flory's groove-drenched opener, "I'm Dig" (featuring trumpeter Ron Stout) through the ingenious ensemble piece "Theme and Variations."