Mike Barone Big Band / North Texas Two O'Clock Lab Band / John Daversa Big Band
Mike Barone Big Band
Flight of the Bumblebee
Flight of the Bumblebee is composer/arranger/trombonist Mike Barone's fifth big band album in as many years, and one can always deduce beyond the shadow of a doubt that he has some fresh and engaging insights to share. Barone's purpose isn't to overwhelm but enlighten, and what better way to edify than to open with a splendidly remodeled version of "Bumblebee." Yes, that "Bumblebee," the one deified in song more than a century ago by the Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) who may have been pleased to behold it in a brand new twenty-first century wardrobe.
Charming as it is, "Bumblebee" is but the first of several pleasurable surprises in store for the listener. Barone has delved deep into his treasure house of vintage songs to unearth two other neglected gems, "Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey" and the Al Jolson favorite, "Avalon," each of which shines anew thanks to Barone's radiant charts. "Honey" is actually making an encore appearance, having been recorded by Barone's band on the album Live at Donte's, 1968 (VSOP 103). The other nine selections are Barone originals, and with due respect to those songs already mentioned, they embody an unbroken succession of highlights. After more than half a century of writing, Barone's earnestness and know-how are as strong as ever, perhaps even more so. How he continues to produce so many entrancing melodies may be a mystery, but one that's a pleasure to contemplate.
While Barone's themes are presumably based for the most part on standards, unearthing their genesis is no easy task. "Lobbers No More" is almost certainly a covert "Just Friends," "Limes Away" a more readily identifiable variant of "Limehouse Blues." While the other tunes aren't as handily linked to their forebears, they are entirely capable of standing on their own. There are, in fact, a couple ("Trottin,'" "Easy Does It") that could conceivably (and deservedly) enter the pantheon of jazz standards.
Among the soloists, trumpeter Bob Summers is out front most often, and that's a good thing, as there aren't many more persuasive ad-libbers on the West Coast or anywhere else. Others heard to good advantage are altos Keith Bishop and Tom Luer, tenors Kevin Garren and Vince Trombetta, trumpeter Mark Lewis, pianist Andy Langham and drummer Bob Leatherbarrow. Trombetta is showcased on "Exceptionally Moist," Garren on "Trottin,'" Bishop on "The Other Half," Luer on "Slow Walkin,'" Langham on "Minus Five."
Barone prefers to record in a studio with an invited audience, which not only assures superior sound quality but the chance for do-overs if needed (with these musicians, it's a safe bet that not many were). The sound here is excellent, as is the ensemble. Everyone is sharp and well-rehearsed, as one would anticipate, while the rhythm section (Langham, Leatherbarrow, bassist David Tranchina) makes all the right moves and drives the band with power and finesse. Meanwhile, Barone's resplendent arrangements eclipse even their laudable efforts, making Flight of the Bumblebee a strong contender for anyone's big band Album of the Year.
North Texas Two O'Clock Lab Band
Bruce Hall Jazz Music
North Texas Jazz
Bruce Hall Jazz Music, the second of four albums by the University of North Texas Two O'Clock Lab Band to be reviewed consecutively in this column, brings to the fore the Classes of Spring 2006-07 under recently retired director James Riggs. Bruce Hall, as it turns out, is not a person but a place, a dormitory and rehearsal space situated next to the UNT Music Building. Many music majors have been and are among those housed in its 492 rooms, presumably including some or even all of those who perform on this admirable CD.
The 2007 band leads off with trombonist Dave Richards' suitably named "Funkle Jelly Bags," spotlighting tenor saxophonist Alastair Otteson and trumpeter Thomas Eby. The 2006 ensemble embraces the next three numbersthe standard "There Will Never Be Another You" (arranged by UNT's Matt Gowlick), Bob Brookmeyer's explosive "Boom-Boom" and Thad Jones' luminous "Thank You"but appears only once more, on Phil Kelly's swinging version of "You and the Night and the Music." The Class of 2007 takes charge on Kelly's galloping arrangement of Duke Pearson's "Jeannine," trumpeter Sean Foley's multi-layered "Raga," Alf Clausen's playful "Looking for the Back Door," Bill Holman's Stan Kentonesque arrangement of "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" (featuring trombonist Dave Winslow) and Steve Owen's perceptive look at Wayne Shorter's vigorous "Yes or No" (a splendid showpiece for altos John Leadbetter and Tim Barclay).