John Burnett Swing Orchestra / University of Missouri Concert Big Band / Either-Orchestra
John Burnett Swing Orchestra
Down for Double
John Burnett, an Englishman who now lives and works (as a morning host at WDCB Radio) in suburban Chicago, is a great admirer of the golden age of big bands in the U.S., which spanned roughly three decades, from the 1930s through the early 1960s. So when Burnett decided after arriving in the States to form his own orchestra, it was only natural that he would mold it in the image of those bands he most appreciated including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa.
On Down for Double, the JBSO's third album, Burnett's well-drilled ensmble pays homage to all of the above, plus Glenn Miller (opening with the Joe Garland classic, "In the Mood") and Slide Hampton ("The Blues"). Clarinetist Buddy DeFranco is the guest soloist on "Blues," as he is on "Out of Nowhere" and Louis Prima's "Sing Sing Sing," recorded in October 2000, ten years before the album's first nine tracks, all of which were taped in concert (the first half dozen in Oakbrook Terrace, the next three in Berwyn). In Oakbrook, the ensemble follows "In the Mood" with Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone," Phil Wilson's "Basically Blues," Sammy Nestico's "The Heat's On," Freddie Green's "Down for Double" and Basie's "One O'Clock Jump." Berwyn's centerpiece is Bill Reddie's crackling arrangement of the West Side Story medley, with drummer Bill Byan sitting in for Rich and tenor Bob Frankich for Jay Corre, sandwiched between Nestico's powerful "Wind Machine" and Ellington's playful "Cottontail."
While Burnett has drawn a number of the Chicago area's leading sidemen to his cause, their time in the solo spotlight is for the most part relatively brief. Frankich (alto), tenor Mark Colby and trumpeter Doug Scharf stick close to the script on "In the Mood," trumpeter Scott Wagstaff is out front on "Mellow Tone," pianist Frank Caruso, trombonist Russ Phillips and tenor Dave Kublank on "Basically Blues" and "Down for Double," Colby on "The Heat's On." Another tenor, Lennie Roberts, has a fairly lengthy solo on "Cottontail" and resurfaces with pianist Mark Burnell on "Wind Machine." Besides DeFranco, the soloists are Byam, tenor Frank Catalano and trumpeter Terry Connell on "Sing Sing Sing," pianist Mike Flack on "Out of Nowhere," trombonist Gross on "The Blues."
When all is said and played, Burnett's Swing Orchestra does what its name suggests, and does it quite well. As for DeFranco, he's as urbane and eloquent as ever, skating easily through his guest appearances. Recording quality, while acceptable throughout, is a tad sharper on DeFranco's in-studio tracks. A bountiful harvest for lovers of big band swing.
University of Missouri Concert Jazz Band
Vertigo: The Music of Mike Mainieri
Two debuts here, and bracing ones at that. Vertigo, the premiere recording by the University of Missouri's well-schooled Concert Jazz Band, serves also as a coming out party for the university's new director of Jazz Studies, Arthur White, who helps mark the occasion by delivering forceful tenor saxophone solos on two numbers, "Oops" and "Dee Minor." All of the album's nine compositions are by guest artist Mike Mainieri who adds his assertive vibraphone to the big band mix.
For someone who is best known for founding such cutting-edge groups as Steps Ahead and the White Elephant Orchestra and performing with such innovative musicians as Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, Lew Soloff, Dave Liebman, Al Jarreau, Joe Lovano and the Brecker brothers, Mainieri's big-band scores are by and large plain-spoken and accessible. The UM ensemble approaches them with ample earnestness and enthusiasm, upholding White's decision to escort them to the studio while mastering Mainieri's sometimes strenuous music. All is instrumental save for the ballad, "Fly Away," passably sung by trumpeter Jackie Kiley, who is one of at least half a dozen women in the band.
Two of those women, trumpeter Meredith Hammer and baritone Sarah Carney, solo with alto Jim Scheffer and drummer Ted Brown on the groovy "Plus One," which immediately precedes the impetuous finale, "Beirut." Phylshawn Johnson mans the drum kit there, as he does on "Dee Minor," "R Is for Riddle" and "Bullet Train." Brown spurs the section on four numbers, with graduate assistant Loyd Warden sitting in on "Oops." Besides those already named, the band's capable soloists include alto Jacob Hallman, tenor Dirk Downing, trumpeter Anne Linders, trombonists David Witter and Matt Schmitz, pianist Josiah Bryan, guitarist Alex Ispa-Cowan and bassist Tim Havens.