Jack Cortner Big Band / Peter Hand Big Band / Chicago Jazz Philharmonic
Every number save the last"First Steps Last Steps"was composed for a tour of the UK with pianist Geri Allen, one of Bancroft's musical heroines. The tour unfolded as planned, but Allen was unable to record with the orchestrapardon, orchestroand is replaced by Chick Lyall, who, in Bancroft's opinion, "does a great job" sitting in for her. If that motion needs a second, consider it done. Lyall comps with assurance and brandishes his impressive chops on "Toxic Beaming Happiness," "Ornate Bessie" and "L&C's Theme." The orchestral thread is severed in midstream by a 49-second "Bass Solo," played by the hiply named Mischa Kool.
Besides Lyall, the soloists on "Bessie" (a synthesis of Ornette Coleman and Count Basie) are Bancroft and alto Laura MacDonald, on the spectral "Theme" screaming baritone John Telfer. Tenor Phil Bancroft seizes the moment on the rhythmic "Stanley & Marjorie's Jig" (dedicated to the late Scottish musician / composer Martyn Bennett), trumpeter Colin Steele and trombonist Joost Buis on "The Ballad of L&C," guitarist Kevin MacKenzie on "Beat the Boss Part 1," MacDonald and Buis on "First Steps Last Steps."
Be advised that Bancroft's essays are tone poems, not arranged in a customary big-band framework, and while they do require one's earnest awareness, are never tedious or uninspired. The Orchestro Interrupto is admirable, as are the over-all sound and balance. Recommended to those who prefer their big-band jazz with a splash of profundity.
Warren Smith Composers Workshop Ensemble
Old News, Borrowed Blues
When a review opens with a comment about sound quality, one can sense immediately that something may be amiss, as indeed it is on Old News, Borrowed Blues by the New York-based Composers Workshop Ensemble. The problem here lies not so much with the music, which is by and large agreeable, but with the acoustics, which are deficient at best. The ensemble passages are especially muddy; one might even say opaque, which is a shame, as leader Warren Smith, who presumably wrote and / or arranged the various selections, has some engaging things to say, and the Workshop boasts a number of first-class sidemen (and one woman, baritone saxophonist Claire Daly).
Soloists aren't named, but that has to be Smith or Lloyd Haber on vibes, probably Cecil Bridgewater on trumpet / flugelhorn, and undoubtedly Craig Rivers on soprano sax, Joe Daley on euphonium, Douglas Yates on alto, Andrew Lamb on tenor (featured on the driving "One More Lick for Harold Vick"). There are two expanded works, the three-part "Rivers State Suite," inspired by a trip to Nigeria in the 1980s, and the four-part "Free Forms," chosen from a set of ten "early experiments in free improvisation." These are perhaps the least successful of the Workshop's endeavors; regrettably, they account for more than one-third of the album's hour-plus running time. The "Rivers Suite" (enhanced by African percussion) and sensuous "Hungarian Gypsy Song," on the other hand, are charming, as is the emphatic opener, in spite of its inauspicious name"Lock the Toilet Door."
Old News Borrowed Blues comes in a plain brown wrapper, according to which it was recorded and engineered at Ghetto Sound Lab in Brooklyn, NY, which seems somehow appropriate. Not to be too hard on anyone, but the Workshop's best efforts on this session are invariably short-changed by the bargain-basement sound.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Strike Up the Band; Speak Low; Sometime Ago; Cantaloupe Island; Sound Check; Yesterdays; Caravan; Cinema Paradiso Love Theme; a la Mode; You and the Night and the Music; It's All Right with Me.
Personnel: Jack Cortner: leader, arranger; Bob Millikan, Tony Kadleck (2, 5-8, 11), Danny Cahn (2, 5-8, 11), Bud Burridge, Frank Greene (1, 3, 4, 9, 10), Dave Gale (1, 3, 4, 9, 10): trumpet; Lawrence Feldman, Jerry Dodgion, Jon Gordon (4, 9, 11): alto sax; Dave Tofani, Dennis Anderson (2, 5-8, 11), Bob Malach (1, 3, 4, 9, 10): tenor sax; Kenny Berger: baritone sax; Jim Pugh (1-5, 10, 11), Keith O'Quinn (6-8), Tony Studd, Birch Johnson: trombone; Paul Faulise: bass trombone; Jeff Mironov (7, 9-11), Jay Berliner (2, 5, 11): guitar; Bill Mays: piano; Jay Anderson: bass; John Riley: drums. Special guest artistMarvin Stamm, trumpet, flugelhorn.
The Wizard of Jazz
Tracks: Come Rain or Come Shine; Ill Wind; This Time the Dream's on Me; The Man That Got Away; Let's Fall in Love; Stormy Weather; Blue Jug / Harold's Blues; Over the Rainbow.
Personnel: Peter Hand: leader, arranger, guitar; Cecil Bridgewater, Brian Pareschi, Valery Ponomarev, Jim Rotondi: trumpet, flugelhorn; Houston Person, Kenny Berger, Don Braden, Ralph Lalama, Brad Leali, Mike Migliore: reeds; Sam Burtis, John Mosca, Jim Pugh: trombone; Richard Wyands: piano; Harvie S: bass; Steve Johns: drums.