Stan Kenton-NOVA Jazz Orchestra / Baker's Dozen Big Band / Danny D'Imperio and the Bloviators
Two volumes to date, and two unequivocal winners for Bill Lichtenauer's Tantara Productions. As is true of baseball and blue skies, you can never have too much Stan Kenton, especially when the themes have never before been recorded. Volume 3 in the series should be another humdinger, as it encompasses more of Kenton's previously unrecorded music (this time from the 1970s) and a performance on Disc 2 by the formidable University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Jazz Ensemble. If it's anywhere near as exciting as Volumes 1 and 2 it should be a must-have in every big-band library.
Goes to Eleven
Baker's Dozen is of course a play on words, sort of like Danny Ocean and his associates in the film Ocean's Eleven. The "baker" here is leader and baritone saxophonist Paul Baker, and what he and his Austin, TX-based "dozen" have cooked up is an album that teems with music that is open-hearted and sunny, the kind that places a smile on your face and keeps it there. The arrangements, all by Baker (who also wrote every song on the studio date save Robert Skiles' New Orleans-styled "Another Zydobeto"), are reminiscent of the buoyant and hard-swinging charts written for Maynard Ferguson's comparably-sized ensemble in mid-60s by Willie Maiden, Don Sebesky, Mike Abene, Slide Hampton, Don Menza and other masters of the genre.
Owing to the varying schedules of the musicians involved, Goes to Eleven was recorded during a four-month period in 2010 and there are some personnel changes, notably in the trumpet section and among the basses (three are listed). Baker managed to keep the trombone and reed sections intact, while pianist Morris Nelms and drummer Rob Kazenel report for duty on every number. What's important is that no matter who is on board, everyone plays admirably. These surely must be among the finest jazz musicians the Austin area has to offer. The ensemble is tight, the soloists consistently sharp and engaging. Baker solos twice (on "BJam Blues" and "The Woozy Dude Blues") and there are emphatic statements along the way by almost everyone else. They are enriched at every turn by Baker's burnished charts, which swing easily along without ambiguity or surfeit.
There is, however, ample variety, from the straight-ahead swagger of "Goes to Eleven," "Woozy Dude Blues" and "Spazz Jazz" to the balladry of "The Chanteuse" and "Sing," the Latin stylings of "Todo Que Eres" and "El Viento Caliente" and the harmonic sensibility of "BJam Blues," "Pellalarigram," "Full Circle" and "Chick Digs It." Whatever the mood or tempo, Baker's Dozen is on top of its game, producing a session that pleases from start to finish. The rhythm section, firmly anchored by Kazenel, governs with agility and power, as does lead trumpeter Eric Johnson. When all is said and done, Baker's Dozen really cooks, and the nourishment it provides is both succulent and satisfying.
Danny D'Imperio and the Bloviators
Even though thirteen musicians are listed, Alcohol isn't really a "big-band album," as only on three tracks (Joe Farrell's "Ultimate Rejection," Takes 1 and 2, and Charlie Parker's "Blue Bird") do more than ten members of drummer Danny DImperio's Bloviators (look it up) take part. Elsewhere, the group's size varies from sextet ("Portrait of Stephanie," "It's Magic") to octet ("Room 608," "Make It Good"), nonet ("The Song Is You," "Blue on Blue") and tentet (Melvin Rhyne's "It's Love"). All of the tracks save one ("Stephanie," from 1991) were recorded in October 1998. For the most part, this is a beefed-up version of D'Imperio's smaller groups that have recorded at least half a dozen splendid albums for V.S.O.P., with many of the sidemen from those sessions present and accounted for on this one.
Having said that, it should be noted that the music is first-class all the way. D'Imperio's choice of material is exemplary, and the bop-flavored themes go down as easily as whatever sauce the band was imbibing. Truth be told, there's no way of knowing what role, if any, alcohol played in fashioning the album, but if these gentlemen were indeed lathered as the sessions were being taped, other groups should take note and order a round or two of whatever it was they were having. Drunk or sober, D'Imperio and his colleagues are invariably sharp and enterprising, and you won't hear straight-ahead jazz performed much better than this.