"A Swingin' Affair" Outshines Its Name
Two concerts were yet to come, the firstbefore the dinner breakby composer / arranger Ron Jones' Jazz Influence Orchestra. The ensemble opened with the tried-and-true "Yardbird Suite" (solos by trumpeter Luening and alto Selden), skated neatly through a Jones original, "Pockets of Time" (tenor Doug Webb, trumpeter Gary Grant) and featured Luening on a splendid arrangement of Kurt Weill's "My Ship." Vocalist Calabria Foti made a brief appearance, singing pleasantly on "Old Devil Moon." As an avid lyric-lover, however, I shudder whenever a singer isn't quite up to speed in that department, as in "I look at you and suddenly, something in my eyes I see..." Sorry; it's "something in your eyes I see..." Doesn't make much sense the other way. But back to the instrumentals. "Everything," dedicated to Thelonious Monk, showcased a fine pianist, Mike Lang, as did Holman's singular arrangement of "Donna Lee" (the latter also spotlighting trombonist McChesney and tenor Christlieb, a workhorse in several bands). Alto Gene Cipriano was impressive on his ballad feature, "My One and Only Love," before the band tied a shiny ribbon around the package with Jones' breezy "Happier Than Shit Blues," which imparted blowing space to more than half of the group's twenty-one members (besides the usual brass/ reeds / rhythm crew, Jones used two French horns, guitar, percussion and vibes).
There are times when the last concert in a lengthy panorama encompassing the span of several days can be anticlimactic. This was not one of those times. "A Swingin' Affair" sustained its climactic moments on an incredibly rhapsodic note with the Bob Florence Limited Edition coming together for the last time to render two-set tribute to its founder and guiding light, the incomparable composer / arranger / pianist who passed away on May 15, 2008, five days short of his seventy-sixth birthday. Florence wrote eight of the thirteen selections, several of which have become Jazz standards, and all of the charts. Set 1 opened with Florence's offbeat arrangement of "Take the 'A' Train," featuring baritone saxophonist Bob Efford and guitarist Steve Gregory, then moved on to three of his red-letter originals, "Bebop Charlie," "I'll Remember" and "Willowcrest" (solos on the first by tenor Jeff Driskill and trombonist Alex Iles, on the second by Driskill, the last by trombonist Whitfield and alto Richmond). Pianist Andy Langham introduced "Chelsea Bridge" whose melody was played by clarinetist Shelton with trombonist McChesney soloing. Florence penned the playful "Evelyn, Queen of the Racquet Club" for his wife, Evie, who was present with other members of the family. Resplendent solos courtesy of altos Shelton and Richmond. Set 1 closed with another of Florence's classic charts, "Carmelo's by the Freeway," which embodied scorching statements by tenor saxophonist Peterson and trumpeter Kye Palmer and, as was the case throughout, exemplary timekeeping by drummer Peter Erskine.
Between sets I turned to Betty, who was clearly fatigued, and asked, "Are you going to leave?" "I can't," she replied, speaking for almost everyone else in the audience. The Limited Edition soon returned to the stage, opening with another engaging Florence original that showcased Richmond's persuasive alto. It was the only song whose name I was unable to hear. Next up was the standard "Laura," on which Peterson and trumpeter Saunders (who played lead most of the evening) wrapped their crowd-pleasing solos in layers of warmth and sensitivity. Saunders soloed again with flugel Huffsteter on Johnny Mandel's "Emily," while a host of sidemen (including Erskine and trumpeter Stout) took their swings on Florence's clever homage to Stan Kenton, "Appearing in Cleveland." Then came the surprise: Florence's gossamer arrangement of the New Year's Eve perennial "Auld Lang Syne." The Scottish folk song had been recorded by the band more than two decades ago on the album State of the Art, and now, as then, the lone soloist was Florence's longtime friend and reed section anchor, Bob Efford, whose gem-like improvisation was, to these ears, the most earnest and self-effacing he'd ever produced. If there were any dry eyes in the house, rest assured there were none where this reviewer was seated. What a princely way to end the colorful four-day parade! For Ken Poston and the L.A. Jazz Institute, another five-star appraisal from from a hotel whose own star rating (personal opinion, and sorry to have to say it) hasn't always measured up to the entertainment.