Phil Woods / Stan Kenton / The Les Hooper Band
Phil Woods / DePaul University Jazz Ensemble
Not to underplay the title, but Solitude, from alto saxophone master Phil Woods and the splendid DePaul University Jazz Ensemble, embodies far more than the sort of serenity it implies. In fact, Woods is as animated and inventive as ever, swinging lustily and full of vim and vigor at age 78, while director Bob Lark's enterprising undergrads urge him on with inspired blowing on every number.
The studio session is further enhanced by the presence on three tracks of the other members of the Phil Woods Quartet: pianist Jim McNeely (a frequent visitor to DePaul), bassist Steve Gilmore and drummer Bill Goodwin. While McNeely is the only one of the three to soloon "A Child's Blues" and "Nothing But Soul"Gilmore and Goodwin make their presence felt in other ways, granting the ensemble the unflagging benefit of their many years together as a working rhythm section. Besides soloing brilliantly, Woods composed all of the album's 10 selections ("Solitude" isn't the well-known Ellington theme but an original by Woods), and none is less than engaging. The seductive arrangements are by Woods ("Randi," "Ol' Dude," "Solitude"), McNeely, Mike Pinto, Kirk Garrison, Tom Matta and two members of the ensemble, trumpeters Scott Dickinson and Joe Clark.
Although Woods exercises his prerogative as leader / legend-in-residence and takes the lion's share of the solos, there are persuasive comments along the way by DePaul's pianist, Dan Dufford ("Randi," "Solitude"), vibraphonist Justin Thomas ("Before I Left," "Flowers," "Ol' Dude," Mother Time"), trumpeter Dickinson ("Before I Left," "Song for Sass"), tenor Alex Beltran ("Ol' Dude"), trombonist Bryan Tipps ("Ol' Dude," "Mother Time") and alto Nick Mazzarella ("Ol' Dude"). The program consists of an artful blend of burners and ballads with the playful, self-mocking "Ol' Dude" and two Latin charmers ("Brazilian Affair," "Song for Sass") sandwiched in to spice up the menu, which they do quite nicely. The DePaul ensemble provides unswerving support in those settings, as it does throughout the lambent session.
In sum, a buoyant and picturesque album that is sure to give any listener many hours of pleasure, whether in Solitude or encircled by others.
This Is an Orchestra!
This magisterial and historically important two-CD set from Bill Lichtenauer's Tantara Productions is a companion piece to This Is an Orchestra! (University of North Texas Press), author Michael Sparke's biographical survey of the life and career of bandleader Stan Kenton, and should be a must-have for the many loyal fans of Kenton's music. The discs encompass seven concert performances spanning a quarter of a century and one band rehearsal from March 1961 in Hollywood. The first of the concerts is a DownBeat Awards broadcast on ABC Radio from February 1948 honoring Kenton (for Best Big Band of 1947) and four members of the ensemble: vocalist June Christy, arranger Pete Rugolo, bassist Eddie Safranski and drummer Shelly Manne, each of whom performs one number showcasing his / her individual talents. The half-dozen selections are interspersed with awkward repartee between the honorees and DownBeat editor Ned Williams.
Disc One is devoted to that performance and one in February 1956 at the Soldiers' Club at Fort Ord, CA; the other five concerts and rehearsal are on Disc Two. On the Fort Ord date, there's a chance to relish solos by some who weren't often in the spotlighttenor Spencer Sinatra, trumpeter Ed Leddy, bassist Curtis Counce, drummer Mel Lewisalongside a number of Kenton stalwarts including trumpeters Sam Noto and Vinnie Tanno, trombonists Carl Fontana and Kent Larsen, alto Lennie Niehaus, tenor Bill Perkins and baritone Jack Nimitz. Highlights include Niehaus' blistering solo on "Cherokee" and two dazzling originals each by Gerry Mulligan ("Young Blood," "Limelight") and Bill Holman ("Fearless Finlay," "Kingfish"). Fontana is outstanding on "Intermission Riff," "Take the 'A' Train," "Limelight" and his ballad feature, Holman's lush arrangement of "Polka Dots and Moonbeams." Holman also arranged "Cherokee" and the standard "Out of Nowhere" (the last as a vehicle for Perkins). Niehaus is showcased again on Joe Coccia's arrangement of "I'm Glad There Is You."