John MacLeod & His Rex Hotel Orchestra / Tim Davies Big Band / New England Jazz Ensemble
John MacLeod & His Rex Hotel Orchestra
Our First Set
Those who mourn the passing of the great trombonists Rob McConnell and Dave McMurdo and, with them, two of the most renowned big bands Canada has ever produced, should take substantial comfort from this superlative debut recording by John MacLeod and His Rex Hotel Orchestra, an ensemble patterned after the Boss Brass in whose trumpet section MacLeod was a standout for some fifteen years. To further amplify the likeness, MacLeod's orchestra houses no less than nine former members of the Boss Brass and four alumni of the McMurdo orchestra. Like McConnell, MacLeod uses two French horns, one of whom, James MacDonald, performed the same duties for the Boss Brass. And like McConnell, MacLeod's charts (he arranged everything save "I'm in the Mood for Love") are unerring models of big-band tastefulness and swing.
MacLeod wrote the lively opener, "Great Danes," and three other charmers "B.S. Blues," "Marta's Vineyard," "Song for Rachel." Gord Sheard, a fellow faculty member at Humber College, composed the Caribbean-inspired "Monkey on the Roof," tenor saxophonist (and McMurdo alum) Mike Murley the slow blues "Sometimes You Feel Like That," on which he doubles as phenomenal guest soloist. Returning for a moment to "I'm in the Mood for Love," it was handsomely arranged by McConnell's right-hand man, Rick Wilkins (who was unable to play on the album, as planned, and was replaced by Bob DeAngelis). MacLeod snapped the afterburners on Rodgers and Hart's usually even-tempered "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" and redesigned David Raksin's lovely standard, "Laura," to showcase the impressive talents of lead trombonist Alastair McKay. ("Only trombonists," MacLeod writes, "will know how impossible this kind of playing is.")
Besides MacLeod, MacDonald, Wilkins and McKay, the Boss Brass alumni are lead alto John Johnson, baritone Bob Leonard, trumpeters Steve McDade and Dave Dunlop, bassist Jim Vivian and drummer Ted Warren, while McMurdo's grads are Murley, trombonists Rob Somerville and Terry Promane, lead trumpeter Jason Logue and tenor saxophonist Perry White (who played baritone in McMurdo's orchestra). Among the newcomers, alto Andy Ballantyne is sharp and resourceful on "The Great Danes" and "Marta's Vineyard," guitarist Joey Goldstein sleek and mellow on "Vineyard" and "B.S. Blues." Vivian and Promane also solo on "Blues," while White and pianist David Braid shine on "I'm in the Mood for Love." "Bewitched" is a fast-paced scrimmage for trumpeters McDade and Jon Challoner, "Monkey" a snappy vehicle for Braid and Johnson (on alto and soprano sax). MacLeod solos on flugel ("Great Danes") and muted cornet ("Song for Rachel," "Sometimes You Feel Like That"). With Warren and Vivian showing the way for Braid and Goldstein, the rhythm section is in steady and capable hands.
MacLeod's orchestra has had a steady weekly gig for a number of years at Toronto's Rex Hotel, hence its rather unusual name, which sounds somewhat like a remnant from the golden age of big band radio broadcasts. Whatever the rationale, this band by any other name would be as flat-out awesome, and that's all anyone needs to know. The Boss Brass and Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra are gone forever, but their influence and artistry live on, thanks to John MacLeod and his superlative ensemble. Let's hope this First Set is the harbinger of many yet to come.
Tim Davies Big Band
It was Martin Luther King Jr. who said, "I have a dream." And it was drummer / bandleader Tim Davies who responded, "I'll see your dream and raise you several nightmares." Indeed, it is Davies' troubled dreams, fears and phobias that serve as the impetus for Dialmentia, recorded in 2007 with the transplanted Aussie's Los Angeles-based big band. The first four numbers comprise Davies' Dream Trilogy, each of whose movements is based on a recurring dream or a theme from a dream. (How a trilogy consists of four movements is anyone's guess.)
Be that as it may, the band opens with "Counting to Infinity" (complete with Australian didgeridoo courtesy of guest Anita Thomas), based on Davies' dream in which he is at the world's most beautiful beach but trapped in a deep hole, his escape from which "involves counting every grain of sand in the world." As if that weren't enough, "Hanging by a Thread" (rap by Aloe Blacc) involves teeth falling out, "Dialmentia" Davies' phobia about dial telephones (which, thankfully, are almost as rare these days as the dinosaurs). A full scenario of his recurring dream is provided in the liner notes. In "Pythagatha," Davies thinks he's awake and leans over to cuddle with his wife, only to be bitten by an albino python (not any old python, mind you, but an albino). On the plus side, Davies' nightmares aren't nearly as grim or terrifying musically as might be expected (fortunately, he also has a keen sense of humor that saves the day when all seems darkest).
The rest of the album is thematic in its own way. "Katie's New Handbag" was inspired by Davies' wife's purchase of an expensive Louis Vuitton accessory, "Gubernatorial Recall" (a showcase for Davies' dexterity with brushes) by the political situation in California prior to Arnold Schwarzenegger's interim election, "Blacknail" by the pain and consequences of catching a fingernail in a closing door. "Caravan (-dalized") is a hip hop version of the Juan Tizol classic, "Elegy" a quiet respite from big-band bluster that features cellist Andrew Shulman and bass clarinetist Jennifer Hall brightening Gabriel Faure's classical theme.
What does all this mean for the listener? Well, for one thing, a series of offbeat yet largely engaging charts, anchored in the big band tradition while bending at irregular angles and encompassing myriad quirks of their own, thanks to Davies' inspired and whimsical approach to the music. For another, a highly capable ensemble that believes in the leader's vision and gives his compositions and arrangements the best it has to offer. Third, a number of earnest soloists (including those already named) who shine whenever their names are called. They include altos Martin Kay, Frank Fontaine and Mike Acosta, tenors Mike Nelson and Lee Secard, trumpeters Jon Papenbrook and Sal Cracchiolo, trombonist Jacques Voyemant, guitarist Mark Cally and keyboardist Alan Steinberger. And last but not least, a listening experience that is both liberating and enlightening.
While Dialmentia may be a dream come true for some listeners, it could be more problematic for others, especially those whose conception of big band jazz is bound to an established framework. In other words, this music requires sober engagement and broad-minded acceptance. Once the heart and mind are fully employed, there's much to appreciate and admire.
New England Jazz Ensemble
It's a Grand Night for Swinging
The New England Jazz Ensemble marks its twentieth anniversary with this superb concert recording on which it not only swings with abandon but lends unwavering support to three special guest artists: flutist Ali Ryerson, vocalist Giacomo Gates and guitarist John Abercrombie. The concert opens on a lively note with saxophonist John Mastroianni's brisk, Latin-centered arrangement of Michel Legrand's "The Summer Knows" and keeps percolating through the last measures of Billy Taylor's playful "Grand Night for Swinging," splendidly tethered to a Dixie beat by trumpeter Jeff Holmes.
Sandwiched between are four luminous charts by pianist / music director Walt Gwardyak ("My One and Only Love," "Hazel's Hips," "Lady Be Good" coupled with Charlie Parker's "Disappointed," Duke Pearson's "Jeannine"), another tour de force by Mastroianni (Bronislau Kaper's "Invitation") and sparkling arrangements by Holmes of Abercrombie's original compositions "Jazz Folk," "Risky Business" and "Labour Day." Ryerson's supple flute is showcased on "My One and Only Love," and she solos with Gwardyak and drummer John Mele on "The Summer Knows," with trombonist Ben Griffin on "Invitation."
Gates, an ultra-hip singer in the image of Bob Dorough, Dave Frishberg and others, is smooth and eloquent, singing and scatting effortlessly on his three numbers, Oscar Brown Jr.'s "Hazel's Hips," the Gershwin brothers' "Lady Be Good" (tied to "Disappointed," lyrics by Eddie Jefferson) and "Jeannine," while Abercrombie quickly shows who's in charge on "Folk," "Business" and "Labour Day," fashioning resonant single-note lines with ease and authority while the ensemble provides a colorful backdrop. Everyone returns for the buoyant finale, which encompasses enterprising solos by Ryerson, Abercrombie, Mele and bassist Steve Bulmer along with more congruous scatting by Gates. Others who forge impressive solos along the way include tenors Larry Dvorin and Mike Leventhal, trumpeters Steve Fitzko and Phil Person.
When all is said, done and written, this was indeed A Grand Night for Swinging, and those who showed up at the Polish National Home in Hartford, CT, on that memorable evening in June 2010 were fortunate to be there. For those who weren't, this marvelous CD is the next best thing.
The Other Duke: Tribute to Duke Pearson
New Jersey-based Swingadelic describes itself as a "swing band" with elements of blues, soul, hard bop and funk thrown into the blender. There's certainly a lot of each on The Other Duke, Swingadelic's warm salute to the late Duke Pearson, much of which revisits Pearson's soul-drenched charts from the 1960s and 1970s. Best-known among them are "Jeannine," which has become a jazz standard, and the sauntering "Cristo Redentor," named after the celebrated statue of Christ in Corcovado. Pearson wrote all the others save for "Mississippi Dip" (George Andrews), "Duke's Mixture" (Donald Byrd) and "New Time Shuffle" (Joe Sample). "Shuffle" first appeared on the album Introducing the Duke Pearson Big Band (Blue Note, 1967), as did "Mississippi Dip."
While Swingadelic barely qualifies as a big band, it coaxes a full-bodied sound from a mini-lineup of two trumpets, two trombones, three saxophones and four-member rhythm section. The band has been together for some years now, performing at dances, parties, fund-raisers, picnics, weddings and other events in the New York City area and beyond, and the experience pays off here, shaping a performance that is assertive and clean. If there's a downside, it lies in the chance that a steady diet of "soul food" may leave some listeners engorged. They should be apprised of what is on the menu before ordering the first course.
Having said that, it should be pointed out that the "food" is certainly well-cooked, as Swingadelic's hard-working chefs do their utmost to garnish Pearson's comestibles with the utmost care. The session opens with the romping boogaloo "Mississippi Dip," arranged by leader / tenor saxophonist Paul Carlon, then dispatches some spicy "Chili Peppers" before moving on to "Cristo Redentor" and "Jeannine." Pearson wrote the light-hearted "Big Bertha" (nice muted trumpet by Albert Leusink or Carlos Francis) and ambling "Sweet Honey Bee" (flute solo courtesy of Carlon, electric piano by John Bauers), which precede Byrd's deeply grooved "Mixture." Two more compositions by Pearson, the straight-on "Sudel" and emphatic "Ready Rudy," lead to the robust finale, Sample's "New Time Shuffle." Soloists aren't listed but there are engaging turns by Carlon, Bauers, alto Audrey Welber, baritone Jeff Hackworth, guitarist Boo Reiners and others. Reiners, Bauers, bassist Dave Post and drummer Paul Pizzuti comprise a well-oiled rhythm section.
This is a tribute that Duke Pearson would certainly have appreciated, as will those who admire the singular "Blue Note sound" of the 1960s and 1970s, earnestly re-created by Swingadelic.
Peter Tenner JazzOrchester
On 10117 Berlin, the listener is introduced to Peter Tenner's well-endowed JazzOrchester by way of Peter Ehwald's unaccompanied soprano saxophone, which bestrides the opening minute of Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are," the first of Tenner's ten resourceful arrangements. Tenner, who teaches music theory at the Jazz Institute Berlin, also composed half a dozen numbers, and each one is bright, engaging and earnestly performed by the ensemble.
Besides reinvigorating "All the Things You Are," Tenner does much the same for Dizzy Gillespie's warhorse "A Night in Tunisia," the Peggy Lee favorite "Fever" (pleasantly sung here by guest artist Jessica Gall) and the German folk song "So trieben wir den Winter aus." His own themes are no less impressive, from the light-hearted "Zuhuuu!," introspective "10117 Berlin" and picturesque "March in Edinburgh" (with its charming echoes of bagpipes) to the peaceful "Lassen," passionate "Choral" and piquant "Filmmusik."
The ensemble itself (some of whose members look as though they may be among Tenner's students) is, as noted, sharp and persuasive, the soloists polished and articulate, sounding not at all like a school-based orchestra, so perhaps that is not the case. On the other hand, Tenner may simply be a superb teacher. Whatever the case, the ensemble delves deeply into every tune, bringing out the best in Tenner's already inventive charts, ably abetted by the studio recording's first-rate sound quality. Besides Ehwald, featured soloists are pianist Matt Klein ("10117 Berlin") and alto Nico Lohmann ("Choral," "Filmmusik"). Others who test the water and find it to their liking include alto Katja Gangoly, tenor Uli Kempendorff, baritone Oliver Busch, trumpeters Nikolaus Neuser, Jotham Bleibeg and Donat Kubrinski, trombonist Stefan Ulrich, bass trombonist Otwin Zipp and bassist Giorgi Kiknadze. Drummer Konrad Ulrich presides over the ensemble's perceptive rhythm section (percussionist Robby Geerken and electric bassist Thomas Stieger are added on "Tunisia").
Another German big band, another winner in every respect. The names may be unsung but everything else is precisely on-key. In other words, this band can play.
Tracks and Personnel
Our First Set
Tracks: The Great Danes; B.S. Blues; I'm in the Mood for Love; Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered; Laura; Marta's Vineyard; Monkey on the Roof; Song for Rachel; Sometimes You Feel Like That.
Personnel: John MacLeod: leader, composer, arranger, cornet, flugelhorn; Jason Logue: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dave Dunlop: trumpet, flugelhorn; Brian O'Kane: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jon Challoner: trumpet, flugelhorn; John Johnson: alto sax, flute; Andy Ballantyne: alto sax, flute; Perry White: tenor sax, flute; Bob DeAngelis: tenor sax, clarinet; Bob Leonard: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Alastair Kay: trombone; Rob Somerville: trombone; Terry Promane: trombone; Colin Murray: bass trombone; James MacDonald: French horn; Janet Anderson: French horn; David Braid: piano; Joey Goldstein: guitar; Jim Vivian: bass; Ted Warren: drums. Special guestMike Murley: tenor sax (9).
Tracks: Counting to Infinity; Hanging by a Thread; Dialmentia; Pythagatha; Katie's New Handbag; Caravan (dalized); Gubernatorial Recall; Blacknail; Elegy.
Personnel: Tim Davies: leader, composer, arranger, drums; Jon Papenbrook: trumpet; Bijon Watson: trumpet; Rich Hofmann: trumpet; Bill Dowling: trumpet; Ken Bausano: trumpet; Steve Wade: trumpet; Bill Churchville: trumpet; Mike Acosta, Mike Nelson, Lee Secard, Jennifer Hall, Frank Fontaine, Jim Honeyman, James King, Alex Budman: reeds; Jacques Voyemant: trombone; Kerry Loeschen: trombone; Martha Catlin: trombone; Rick Blanc: trombone; Alan Steinberger: keyboards; Brian Byrne: keyboards; Mark Cally: guitar; Andrew Synowiec: guitar; Steve Pandis: bass; Jeff Novack: bass; M.B. Gordy: percussion. Guest soloistsMartin Kay: alto sax; Sal Cracchiolo: trumpet; Andrew Shulman: cello; Aloe Blacc: MC; Anita Thomas: didjeridoo.
It's a Grand Night for Swinging
Tracks: Introduction; The Summer Knows; My One and Only Love; Invitation; Hazel's Hips; Lady Be Good / Disappointed; Jeannine; Jazz Folk; Risky Business; Labour Day; A Grand Night for Swinging.
Personnel: Jeff Holmes: trumpet, flugelhorn; Steve Fitzko: trumpet, flugelhorn; Phil Person: trumpet, flugelhorn; Hank Zorn: trumpet, flugelhorn; John Mastroianni: alto, soprano sax, clarinet, flute, piccolo; Bob DePalma: alto sax, clarinet, flute; Mike Leventhal: tenor sax, clarinet; Larry Dvorin: tenor sax, clarinet; Lisa Ladone: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Tim Atherton: trombone; Dave Sporny: trombone; Ben Griffin: trombone; Dave Wampler: bass trombone; Walt Gwardyak: music director, arranger, piano; Steve Bulmer: bass; Jon Mele: drums. Guest artistsJohn Abercrombie: guitar; Giacomo Gates: vocals; Ali Ryerson: flute.
The Other Duke: Tribute to Duke Pearson
Tracks: Mississippi Dip; Chili Peppers; Cristo Redentor; Jeannine; Big Bertha; Sweet Honey Bee; Duke's Mixture; Sudel; Ready Rudy; New Time Shuffle.
Personnel: Albert Leusink: trumpet; Carlos Francis: trumpet; Audrey Welber: alto sax; Paul Carlson: tenor sax, flute; Jeff Hackworth: baritone sax; Rob Susman: trombone; Rob Edwards: trombone; Boo Reiners: guitar; John Bauers: piano; Dave Post: bass; Paul Pizzuti: drums.
Tracks: All the Things You Are; Juhuuu!; 10117 Berlin; March in Edinburgh; Lassen; So treiben wir den Winter aus; A Night in Tunisia; Choral; Filmmusik; Fever.
Personnel: Peter Tenner: leader, composer, arranger; Greg Bowen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jotham Bleiberg: trumpet, flugelhorn; Nikolaus Neuser: trumpet, flugelhorn; Donat Kubrinski: trumpet, flugelhorn; Nico Lohmann: alto, soprano sax; Katja Gangoly: alto, soprano sax; Peter Ehwald: tenor, soprano sax, clarinet; Uli Kempendorff: tenor, soprano sax, clarinet; Oliver Busch; baritone sax, bass clarinet; Rolf Zickerick: trombone; Stefan Ulrich: trombone; Petra Krumphuber: trombone; Otwin Zipp: bass trombone; Matt Klein: piano, Fender Rhodes; Giorgi Kiknadze: bass; Konrad Ullrich: drums. GuestsJessica Gall: vocal (10); Robby Geerken: percussion (7, 10); Thomas Stieger: electric bass (7).