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Big Band Report

"Modern Sounds," or: Running a Marathon in Full Body Armor

By Published: November 8, 2011
Horizontal composition, equal interval, or whatever anyone chooses to call it, Murphy's writing for a saxophone section is as good as I've ever heard—from anyone. There may be ways to elicit a more lustrous and seductive sound from woodwinds but none that I can recall. The group on this occasion consisted of altos Roger Neumann and Phil Feather, tenors Terry Harrington and John Yoakum, and baritone Jay Mason, backed by a first-rate rhythm section (Rich Eames, piano; Autorickshaw, bass; Santo Savino, drums) and joined on the last three numbers by trombonists Charlie Morillas and Jacques Voyemant. They glided through a dozen of Murphy's endearing originals including "Orbit," "Fourth Dimension," "Lost in a Fugue," "Illusion" (featuring Mason's baritone), "Caleta," "Crazy Quilt," "Seismograph," "Slightly Off Center," "Tone Poem," "Fran-tastic," "Misty Rose" and "Frankly Speaking." To further enhance their beauty, Murphy's tunes are sunny and melodic. Misgivings forgotten, I was sorry to reach the end of that hour.

The weekend's lone panel discussion was, through no fault of its designers, slightly mislabeled. "The Masters" was to have included Mandel, Holman and Gerald Wilson
Gerald Wilson
Gerald Wilson
b.1918
composer/conductor
, but only Wilson showed up to spar with moderator Kirk Silsbee. In some cases this would have been unpromising, but not this one. About all Silsbee had to say was "Gerald, tell us something about how you got started as a bandleader," hand the microphone to his guest and relax for the next hour as Wilson, now ninety-three years young, retraced his life and career in crystal-clear detail almost from the cradle. Wilson's encyclopedic monologue served as a congenial introduction to the afternoon's final concert, "The Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Plays Marty Paich," featuring Paich's buoyant arrangements from the albums I Get a Boot Out of You and The Broadway Bit, conducted by Paich's son, David, and including a guest appearance by Mel Torme's son, Jamie, on the last three numbers ("Too Close for Comfort," "Just in Time," "Too Darn Hot"). Among the instrumentals were "It Don't Mean a Thing," "Moanin,'" "Violets for Your Furs," "What Am I Here For," Cottontail" and "It's All Right with Me." Jamie Torme, more a cabaret-style entertainer than a jazz singer like his dad, reminded this auditor (if any prompting were needed) that there was only one Mel Torme. The set included nimble solos by trumpeter Carl Saunders, alto Lanny Morgan, tenor Doug Webb and pianist Mike Lang, among others, and as a bonus, a spicy soprano solo by guest John Altman on "Too Close for Comfort."

After supper we entered the homestretch, one that was abbreviated by the last-minute cancellation of a concert by the Russ Garcia Big Band, leaving the Holman and Wilson ensembles to add the finishing touches to the week's events. Holman was first up, and it was immediately apparent that the maestro, who can swing as hard as anyone when he chooses to, had chosen not to, opening with the tedious "No Joy in Mudville," which wore out its welcome early on but plodded onward for what seemed a much longer time than it actually was. Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
b.1950
keyboard
's "Isn't She Lovely," a rather banal song in its own right, offered little change for the better, nor did baritone Bob Efford's feature, "Bari Me Not," which followed Alec Wilder's ballad "I'll Be Around" (solo by the superb trombonist Andy Martin). Rounding out the program were the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood," Holman's "Sweet Spot" and the standard "Just Friends" (on which the ensemble finally started to percolate). The audience must have been won over, as they insisted on an encore, and Holman obliged with another crowd-pleaser, "Far Down Below," featuring trumpeter Bob Summers, pianist John Campbell and tenor Doug Webb. Webb (soprano) and Carl Saunders had tasteful solos on "Sweet Spot," and there were other trim statements by alto Bruce Babad, bassist Adam Cohen, trombonist Eric Hughes (at twenty-three, the band's second-youngest member) and tenor Danny Janklow (the youngest at age twenty-two). To deflect any ill-advised impressions, it should be noted that I am and have long been an admirer of Holman's writing and arranging ("Stompin' at the Savoy" remains my all-time favorite chart) but I'd rather hear the band swing, as it surely can. On this occasion, that was not, for the most part, its modus operandi.


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