Skelton Skinner All Stars / Clare Fischer Big Band / Ron Carter's Great Big Band
Skelton Skinner Allstars Big Band
Cookin' with the Lid On
Diving Duck Records
Back in the late 1950s, vibraphonist Terry Gibbs (with some help from his friends) put together an ensemble that became known as the Terry Gibbs Dream Band, took up residence in Hollywood and began blowing audiences away at the Summit, Seville and Sundown nightclubs. The band numbered in its ranks such renowned West Coast musicians as Conte Candoli, Richie Kamuca, Frank Rosolino, Bill Perkins, Pete Jolly, Al Porcino, Charlie Kennedy, Bob Enevoldsen, Jack Nimitz, Mel Lewis, Buddy Clark, Stu Williamson, Joe Maini, Lou Levy, Bobby Burgess and others, who grooved nightly on dazzling arrangements by Bill Holman, Marty Paich, Al Cohn, Manny Albam, Bob Brookmeyer and Med Flory. When the group ended its run in 1962, most big-band enthusiasts thought they'd never see its like again. On the other hand . . .
Along come Great Britain's irrepressible Skelton Skinner All Stars and suddenly, in the words of Richard and Karen Carpenter's hit song from 1973, it's Yesterday Once More. Although the SSAS clearly aren't the Dream Band (see personnel list above), they come about as close as any group you're likely to hear, and their debut album, Cookin' with the Lid On, which reshapes music introduced by Gibbs' ensemble and includes seven of Holman's luminous charts, is almost like listening to the Dream Band without the disconcerting audience noise. The All Stars, co-led by drummer Matt Skelton and saxophonist Colin Skinner, get right down to business on Holman's free and easy arrangement of Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine," which precedes four more of his peerless charts: "Billie's Bounce," "Stardust" (featuring trumpeter Danny Marsden), "Sweet Lorraine" and the torrid Latin theme, "Tico Tico."
Vibraphonist Anthony Kerr, who does a creditable job sitting in for Gibbs (as does Skelton for the masterful Mel Lewis), is showcased on Albam's arrangement of "Sweet Georgia Brown," carries the melody on "Stardust" and solos trimly on half a dozen other numbers including the scampering finale, Holman's high-powered arrangement of "Day In, Day Out." Holman also arranged "The Song Is You," which embodies solos by Kerr and tenor saxophonist Olly Wilby. The other charts are by Lennie Niehaus ("It Could Happen to You") and Skinner ("Goodbye," "What Is This Thing Called Love"). Skinner's alto brightens and enhances on "It Could Happen," and there are brief but effective statements elsewhere by trumpeter Steve Fishwick, trombonists Gordon Campbell and Richard Wigley, tenor Luke Annesley and guitarist Colin Oxley.
That pretty much covers the positives. On the flip side of the coin, this is for the most part music that has not only been heard before but was played and recorded by one of the most electrifying and talented big bands ever assembled. Those who have any or all of the half-dozen albums released by the original Dream Band may not be as moved by its contemporary version as those who do not. One more thing: the Skelton Skinner ensemble has squeezed eleven numbers into less than forty-five minutes, or a little more than half the playing time of a compact disc. While that leaves ample room to stretch, the soloists on Cookin' with the Lid On are by and large confined to a chorus or less. Yes, that was usually true of the Dream Band as well, but they were recording on LPs, where space was at a premium, not on CDs. The SSAS could have lengthened every solo by a factor of two or three and still had more than enough time to spare. Even so, what is there is high-grade, and those who may have missed the Dream Band and would like to hear its near-equivalent are in for a treat.
The Clare Fischer Big Band
[Author's note: The following review was submitted to All About Jazz on January 28, one day after the multi-talented musician Clare Fischer died in California at age eighty-three. As the review had been completed earlier, it was written as though Fischer were still alive. Continuum has thus become the endmost crowning point in Fischer's long and illustrious musical career.]