John Burnett Swing Orchestra: West Of State Street / East Of Harlem (2009)
Accolades from the likes of Buddy De Franco and Louie Bellson might lend this band additional legitimacy as keeper of the flame, but its sheer love for the music, as manifested in countless ways here, is more than sufficient in itself. In times like these it takes love as much as anything else to put music like this out at all, but it's abundantly clear that the therapeutic effect of it should be incorporated in some kind of health plan.
The sections are drilled to just the right side of loose and the soloists each bring their own thing to the mix, with tenor sax man Doug Stone's work being arguably the most notable outside of special guest Randy Sandke's trumpet work. Stone brings some of John Coltrane's sheets of sound to bear without sounding incongruous, as he does with aplomb on "Groovin' Hard," where he single-handedly gives substance to the title.
Sandke luxuriates in the musical surroundings in general and in particular on "How Long Has This Been Going On?," where he goes for the Lester Young approach oflanguorous phrasing behind the beat and pulls it off with no small measure of panache. This title also shows how adept this band is at accompaniment; the music does indeed swing, as it does throughout, but mastery of that feeling by degrees seems to be a skill that's dying out.
As if to prove the point, or at least a point, they even have the gall to tackle "Hello Dolly," complete with cod-Satchmo vocal that's just about forgivable. The whole thing's taken to another level by Brian Scott's trombone, which combines the sassy and the urbane in equal measure, only for Bob Frankich's clarinet to do the same with equal parts of Pee Wee Russell and Herb Hall on the menu. Sandke proves too that he's not above grandstanding and the spirit of Louis Armstrong's manifested in his playing.
When the band tackles Count Basie head-on with "One O'Clock Jump," the buoyancy of the rhythm section comes into its own, as does Stone (again on tenor sax), his keening edge lending an urgency to proceedings that makes the ears prick up and the mouth break into a smile which gets a little hard to maintain when Miller-like horn riffing comes into the proceedings.
All in all it's so much more than a gas, despite the slight trace of occasional hokum. Oh, and they don't do "Flying Home" either, which is always a blessing.
Track Listing: Flight Of The Foo Birds; Groovin' Hard; How Sweet It Is; Randy Sandke Introduction; Night In Tunisia; Anytime, Anyday, Anywhere; Struttin' With Some Barbecue; Ten Cents A Dance; One O'Clock Jump; Hello Dolly; Little Jazz Boogie; Witchcraft; How Long Has This Been Going On?; Sweet Georgia Brown; Begin The Beguine; April In Paris; Love For Sale.
Personnel: John Burnett: leader; Randy Sandke: trumpet; Terry Connell: trumpet; Mike McGrath, Greg Duncan: trumpet; Tony Pons: trumpet; Bryant Scot: trombone; Adam Gross: trombone; Dana Legg: trombone; Bill Walsh: bass trombone; Bill Frankich: alto sax, clarinet; Nick Mazarella: alto sax; Doug Stone: tenor sax; Anthony Bruno: tenor sax; Bruce Mack: baritone sax; Mark Burnell: piano; John Moran: guitar; Paul Martin: bass; Bill Bryan: drums. Frieda Lee: vocals (6, 8).