Bob Florence Limited Edition / Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band / Dana Legg Stage Band / John Burnett Swing Orchestra
Bob Florence Limited Edition
"Legendary" is a word that is often misused and shamelessly over-used, and in this case entirely appropriate. Even though composer / arranger / pianist Bob Florence is no longer with us, and wasn't in the studio when his Limited Edition recorded for the last time in October 2008, his indomitable presence not only ensured the spectacular outcome but has made Legendary an unequivocal frontrunner in the big-band Album of the Year sweepstakes (are you listening, Grammy electors?).
Florence, who had planned to record with the ensemble before his passing in May 2008, wrote four of the album's nine selections and arranged all of them in his singularly personal style. The Limited Edition responds in this "labor of love" with one of its most impressive performances ever, perhaps equaled only by another soul-stirring homage at the Los Angeles Jazz Institute's "Swingin' Affair" last May. As Florence's tasteful piano was also absent from the session, the band enlisted the help of one of his like-minded kindred spirits, Alan Broadbent, who repays their confidence with interest, especially on one of Florence's more impassioned charts, Michel Legrand's "You Must Believe in Spring," on which Broadbent is showcased with tenor saxophonist Tom Peterson. Broadbent is replaced on the final selection, "Auld Lang Syne," by none other than Florence himself, his solo piano smoothly inserted into the big-band mix via the miracle of modern electronics. And if that doesn't bring a tear to one's eye, perhaps nothing will.
The disc opens with Florence's resourceful arrangement of Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train," which was introduced by Germany's superb SWR Big Band on its album Goldener Mielenstein. Guitarist Larry Koonse, trumpeter Carl Saunders and baritone Bob Efford are the stellar soloists. Alto Kim Richmond and drummer Peter Erskine shine on Michael Leonard's upbeat "I'm All Smiles," as does trombonist Bob McChesney on Johnny Mandel's dark-hued "Suicide Is Painless" (better known as the theme of the television series M*A*S*H).
One of Florence's last compositions, the rhapsodic 15 minute tone poem "Fluffy," was written for Faye Tompach, the wife of Florence's close friend Norm Tompach; the playful "Geezerhood" as a tongue-in-cheek salute to senior citizens. Erskine, soprano Don Shelton, trombonist Alex Iles and trumpeter Steve Huffsteter are charming on "Fluffy," (muted) trombonist Scott Whitfield likewise on "Geezerhood," which is tastefully introduced by the ensemble's two baritones, Efford and Bob Carr. The fast-moving "Limited Edition Express" shows that Florence could still wave the flag (fiery solos courtesy of Richmond and trumpeter Ron Stout) while "Luci" reinforces his eminent stature as a masterful balladeer. The indefatigable Saunders, who also supervises the Edition's blue-chip trumpet section, again proves his ingenuity as a soloist.
The sound quality on Legendary is exemplary, the playing time a generous 71 minutes-plus. Blend in Florence's magnificent compositions and arrangements, superbly performed by one of the country's leading ensembles, and this is by any measure an album of uncommon significance. More than that, it is an earnest and warm-hearted valedictory to a peerless leader who was and is Legendary.
Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band
I'm BeBoppin' Too
Half Note Records
This is a congenial album, the third by the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, commingling compositions by Gillespie with others by Thelonious Monk, Tadd Dameron, A.K. Salim, Kenny Dorham and standards by Vernon Duke / Ira Gershwin ("I Can't Get Started") and Sigmund Romberg / Oscar Hammerstein ("Lover Come Back to Me"). Even so, I'm BeBoppin' Too seldom reaches the level of excitement generated by the band's second recording, Dizzy's Business.
One reason, perhaps, is that Dizzy's Business was gleaned from a high-powered concert performance at Pittsburgh's Manchester Craftsmens Guild, whereas BeBopppin' is a more even-tempered studio session (the booklet does not disclose the date or place). Another explanation may be that there are more vocals (five) this time, which, if the singers were anyone but Roberta Gambarini, James Moody and trumpeter Roy Hargrove (on the title song), would present a tenable cause for rebuke. As it is, Gambarini is typically enchanting on Monk's "'Round Midnight," Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now," "Lover Come Back to Me" and scatting gleefully with Moody on "Cool Breeze," while Hargrove is surprisingly adept on "BeBoppin,'" whose composer credit is given to Gillespie's wife, Lorraine.