Skelton Skinner All Stars / Clare Fischer Big Band / Ron Carter's Great Big Band
Carter's sidemen hail from the New York City area, which is in itself a form of quality control, a trait that is further enhanced by the presence in every section of seasoned pros, many of them leaders in their own right, whose splendid resumes speak for themselves. Glancing only at the rhythm section, they don't come much better than Carter, pianist Mulgrew Miller and drummer Lewis Nash. That's a rock-solid foundation on which to build, and the ensemble uses it to its utmost advantage. That's especially true on such indelible essays as Sonny Stitt's "The Eternal Triangle," Nat Adderley's "Sweet Emma," Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" or John Lewis' "The Golden Striker." Completing the program are Carter's sensuous "Opus 1.5" and scuffling "Loose Change" and Freedman's lean and succulent "Pork Chop."
"Pork Chop" follows "Caravan" and "Eternal Triangle," which set the scene with spirited blowing by the ensemble and agile solos by soprano Jerry Dodgion ("Caravan"), tenor Scott Robinson, trombonist Jason Jackson and baritone Jay Brandford ("Triangle"). Carter and tenor Wayne Escoffery are the soloists on "Pork Chop," Carter, flugel Tony Kadleck and English hornist Charles Pillow on "Opus 1.5." Miller and Carter shine with trumpeter Greg Gisbert and alto Steve Wilson on "Con Alma," with Escoffery and trombonist James Burton III on "Sail Away," and with trumpeter Alex Norris and bass trombonist Douglas Purviance on "Opus One." Escoffery, Norris and Brandford are center stage on the gospel-tinged "Sweet Emma," Dodgion (alto), Robinson and Burton on "St. Louis Blues," Wilson and Miller on the lyrical "Line for Lyons," Jackson, Gisbert and Miller on "Footprints." Trombonist Steve Davis strides to the forefront alongside Burton and Wilson on "Golden Striker," and with Dodgion (soprano) on "Loose Change."
It's not oftenwell, perhaps neverthat a celebrated seventy-four-year-old jazz musician launches and completes his first big-band recording. In Ron Carter's case it is an enterprise that was long overdue but well worth the wait. Carter's Great Big Band sets its course on living up to that name, and for the most part succeeds. This is a luminous, plain-spoken session whose inapt moments are negligible. In other words, any censure of Carter or his band is essentially bass-less.
The Frank Griffith Big Band
Holland Park Non-Stop
Oregon-born Frank Griffith Nonet, who has made his home in England since 1996 and become known there as a top-drawer musician and educator (he is director of performance in the School of Arts at Brunel University), has long had a desire to record as leader of a big band playing his compositions and arrangements, and here it isHolland Park Non-Stop, a non-stop anthology of big-band singularity and swing at its straight-ahead best. Griffith wrote four of the eleven numbers and arranged them all, keeping his well-rehearsed ensemble on its collective toes with a series of well-drawn charts that demand their unbroken tenacity and awareness (for a graphic example, dig the high-powered "Ricochet").
Besides composing and arranging, Griffith solos on clarinet ("Baby Won't You Please Come Home," "Shine," "JCC," "Travelin' Light") and tenor sax ("Oh You Crazy Moon," "Body and Soul," "Ricochet," "These Foolish Things"). Guest vocalist Tina May is featured on "Crazy Moon," "Travelin' Light" and "That's All." She's sunny and decorous, sounding like an updated version of band singers from the '40s (Helen Forrest, Ivie Anderson, Helen O'Connell and so on), and Griffith's charts bring out the best she has to offer. Even so, it is the instrumental tracks that earn top honors, starting with a loping rendition of Horace Silver's jazz standard, "Strollin'" (ardent solos by trumpeter Freddy Gavita, alto Sammy Mayne and trombonist Adrian Fry, animated timekeeping by drummer Matt Home).