Vaughn Wiester / Doncaster Jazz Orchestra / Kluvers Big Band / Mike Holober & the Gotham Jazz Orchestra
This isn't really a "jazz" album either, even though there are concise improvisations on most numbers by Hood and on several by pianist Dave Hanson. There is one vocal, by Steve Hood, on "Here's to Life," and a guest appearance by Rich Chiaraluce (clarinet on "New Orleans," alto sax on "A Little Taste," tenor on Lee Morgan's "Ceora"). The album's subtitle, "Plays the Writing of Dave Hanson," is slightly askew in that the pianist wrote only four of the dozen numbers but arranged all of them.
Hanson's "Taste," on which he, Hood and Chiaraluce loosen the throttle, is by far the "jazziest" item on the menu and swings heartily even with the ever-present strings straining to apply the brakes. The remainder of the program is either balladic or temperate. This is beautiful music, superbly played by Hood and his colleagues, but it clearly isn't aimed toward hard-core Jazz or big-band fans. Rather, this is more along the lines of those romantic late-night albums by Jackie Gleason, Bobby Hackett, Percy Faith and others that were so popular many years ago. Easy listening but less than cerebral.
Fat Cat Big Band
Angels Praying for Freedom
Okay, so not much was expected from a big-band CD whose title is Angels Praying for Freedom. It serves to prove how misleading assumptions can be. As the first bars of "Subway Soliloquy" uncoiled, the adage about not being able to describe a book by its cover sprang to mind. While Angels may not gladden everyone's ear, it is far less aberrant than anticipated. To the contrary, the lambent studio session is for the most part straight-ahead and harmonious, cleaving earnestly to long-established jazz tradition (in other words, free jazz it ain't).
All of the compositions and arrangements are by guitarist Jade Synstelien someone whose name is worth keeping in mind. He does his best to make the eleven-member ensemble sound like a full-fledged big band, and earns his spurs with a series of cogent and resourceful charts. There are, it must be noted, two egregious errors: Synstelien sets aside his guitar and chooses to sing on "Unfulfillable Longing" and "The Thing That We Play To" (the last with vocal support from bassist Ben Meigners). Big mistake. That's a composer's prerogative, but Synstelien should confine himself to strumming and resist the urge to emulate John Pizzarelli.
Aside from that, his themes are invariably warm and engaging. "Soliloquy" charts an agreeable course, which is underlined by the multi-tempo "Angels Praying," mercurial "Fat Cat Theme," lyrical "I Do Know What Love Is," frisky "No More Stupid Sh*t," gently swinging "Mysterious By All Means" and dynamic "Prayer for Freedom." Soloists are admirable throughout, as is the sure-handed rhythm section (Synstelien, Meigners, pianist Jack Glottman, drummer Phil Stewart).
The ensemble has had a regular weekly gig for the past seven years at the Fat Cat Club in Greenwich Village, housed in a basement next to Smalls, where the band began its passage. It is worth checking out, as is Angels Praying for Freedom, the first in a trilogy of recent recordings by the band (the second will be reviewed next time).
Tracks and Personnel
Dreams Come True
Tracks: Boo Boo Be Doop; Wailin' in the Woodshed; Love Letters; Interloper; Make Someone Happy; Dearly Befuddled; Theme and Variations 3; The Whole Man; Prez Conference; Rhoda Map; Springsville; Mon Ami Jobim; Walkin' by the River; Orange Sherbet.
Personnel: Vaughn Wiester: leader; Erik Gimbel, Larry Everhart, Jim Powell, Bob Larson, Phil Winnard: trumpet; John Vermeulen, Jay Miglia: alto sax; Bryan Olsheski, Joe Graziosi: tenor sax; Bob LeBeau: baritone sax; Ryan Hamilton, Matt Ellis, John Hall: trombone; Bill England: bass trombone; Sean Maloney: tuba; Scott Strohm, Tiffany Damicone: horn; Derek DiCenzo: guitar; Jim Luellen: piano; Larry Cook: bass; Steve Schaar: drums; Margie Coyle: percussion. Additional personnel: Jessica Sneeringer: trombone; Mariah Cheyney: horn; Aaron Quinn: guitar; Warren Clark: trumpet; Evan Oberla: trombone; Jack Schantz, Max Roach: trumpet; Joel Senkar, Brad Smith: trombone; Kie Watkins: tuba; Kristin Pruitt: horn; Aaron Quinn: guitar; Bill Holman: conductor; Quinn: guitar; Jon Eshelman: piano; John Busic: horn; Andrew Hartman: guitar; John von Ohlen: drums; Matt Adams: tenor sax; Ben Huntoon: trumpet; Alan Paar: trumpet; Rob Smeets: guitar; Gordon Schaffer: alto sax; Matt Smith: bass trombone; Ed Cottle: piano; Margie Coyle: percussion.
Tracks: Blues for Elise; Stolen Moments; You Stepped Out of a Dream; A View from the Hill; Autumn; Half-Steps; Easy to Love; African Village; Blue; The Jig Is Up; The Plunger; Keep On Keepin' On; Back in Blue Orleans.