Mike Vax Big Band / Dave Siebels / Phil Woods / London Horn Sound
Mike Vax Big Band
Sounds from the Road
As Bob Hope and Bing Crosby entertained millions with their "road" movies in the 1940s, so the Mike Vax Big Band has its own "road show," arguably as entertaining but playing to much smaller audiences than Hope and Crosby were able to command. Sounds from the Road is the third album by Vax and his stalwart bus-riding companions, documenting their annual travels to various parts of the country in what one hopes will continue to be an ongoing series of vignettes from one of the USA's few remaining big-band "travelogues."
A number of things make Sounds special, not least of which is the appearance on four selections by the great (and greatly missed) composer / arranger / pianist Bob Florence who passed away on May 15, 2008, four days after the band completed its tour of seven Midwestern states, a trip that Florence was unable to take part in owing to his illness. Three of the tracks on which Florence performs were recorded during an earlier visit to Houston, TX, and the "bonus" number ("All the Things You Are") at a concert in Los Angeles.
Another hallmark of Vax's band is the presence of alumni from the renowned Stan Kenton Orchestra, no less than a dozen of whom (including Vax himself) help reinforce the ensemble. One of them, trombonist Dale DeVoe, wrote the engaging opener, "Alex's Tune," which features baritone saxophonist Keith Kaminski, trombonist Scott Whitfield and trumpeter Steve Huffsteter who composed and arranged "Mr. Natural" (spotlighting tenor Alex Murzyn) and "Boney" (featuring Florence's ever-graceful piano and his own shapely flugelhorn). Vax and tenor Pete Gallio enhance Rafael Mendez's "La Virgen de la Macarena," while Gallio and drummer Gary Hobbs do likewise on Bennett Friedman's lyrical "Variations on a Brazilian Folk Song." Johnny Mandel's picturesque "Seascape" was arranged by alumnus Kim Richmond whose luminous soprano sets the tone.
Kenton arranged the standard "I'm Glad There Is You," Lennie Niehaus "Pennies from Heaven" and "Baubles, Bangles and Beads," John Boice "Autumn in New York" (showcasing Carl Saunders' breathtaking trumpet work), Bob Curnow "Oblivion" (trumpet solo by Dennis Noday), Bill Holman Ernesto Lecuona's fiery "Malaguena." There is one vocal, by Whitfield and Ginger Berglund, on Frank Loesser's playful "Slow Boat to China."
As is the case with most such endeavors, allowances must be made for some variation in sound and balance. Even though nothing here is less than adequate, occasional acoustic lapses are perceptible, most particularly on "La Virgen," "Oblivion," "All the Things" and Florence's piano on "Boney." The album's many assets, however, easily outweigh its sparse liabilities. If you appreciate the sound of a big band in its natural habitat, blowing with abandon, Sounds from the Road should pave the way to exhilaration and happiness.
With Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band
Hard on the heels of four fast-selling CDs and three Grammy Award nominations, it seems as though Gordon Goodwin's irrepressible Big Phat Band has finally gotten "organ-ized." The catalyst and marquee name is Dave Siebels, an award-winning keyboardist, composer, arranger and record producer whose spicy Hammond B-3 garnishes each of the ten selections on this sharp and colorful studio session.
Besides playing, TV / film arranger / conductor and jazz fan Siebels wrote seven of the album's songs, the same number on which the Big Phat Band is present and accounted for. The others are tastefully performed by a trio (Neal Hefti's "Girl Talk"), quartet ("I Love You Even More Again") and quintet ("Sort of Like a Samba"). Siebels scored those three as well as Lalo Schifrin's "The Cat," while Goodwin arranged the others. Completing the program is Stevie Wonder's funky "I Wish." Siebels is an effective if not especially visionary writer whose most persuasive anthems are the easy-riding "Coupe," playful "Da Blues" and assertive "Eleventh Hour."
As most people must know by now, the Big Phat Band is a world-class ensemble whose impressive soloists on this date include alto saxophonist Eric Marienthal, tenor Brian Scanlon, trombonist Andy Martin, guitarist Grant Geissman and flautist Sal Lozano. Goodwin's hard-edged tenor is out front twice, on "I Wish" and "Eleventh Hour." Siebels, as noted, solos on every number and is invariably engaging, which equably describes the album as a whole. A clear winner no matter whose name appears first in the batting order.
The Children's Suite