Budman-Levy Orchestra / Jens Wendelboe Big Band / DiMartino-Osland Jazz Orchestra
What they choose to play is another matter, and on this occasion the themes encompass eight original compositions and arrangements by the band's director, Ben Cottrell, whose big ideas lead the ensemble down a number of shifting paths, some of which may prove disquieting to the more temperate listener but all of which embody the basic elements of big-band jazz, from melody, harmony and rhythm to innovation and improvisation, admirably negotiated by the ensemble and its individual members. It's the same avenue trodden with some success by the likes of Gil Evans, Maria Schneider, Bob Brookmeyer, Charlie Haden, Carla Bley and, more recently, Darcy James Argue, albeit approached from Cottrell's uncommon perspective, which generally entails swinging as an indispensable element in the equation.
The lone departure is "broken," which meanders slowly around Anthony Brown's wailing tenor and a lyric that is as opaque as most modern lyrics have come to be before ending with a few audio maneuvers that add nothing to the blueprint. The buoyant curtain-raiser, "bake," opens with what sounds like someone knocking on a door (actually, drummer Finlay Panter) to the grating sound of a turntable, after which it settles into a carefree groove behind earnest solos by Patrick Hurley on Fender Rhodes, Sam Healey on alto, and Panter. Nick Walters' trumpet enlivens the breezy "yafw (part iii)," and he is heard again with tenor Ben Watte on the more muted "three." Bassist Harrison Wood and flugel Graham South are the soloists on the ardent ballad "anymore," Healey and guitarist Anton Hunter on the fast-paced "jazz walk," Watte on the playful "elf." Healey and Watte share blowing space on the colorful, mood-shifting tone poem "sisterhood."
As noted, the music espoused by beats & pieces may not be to everyone's liking. It is, nevertheless, both visionary and dependable on its own terms, and this apparently is the direction in which big-band jazzor at least a sizable chunk of itseems to be going. That is neither good nor bad, simply different. For those who may wish to broaden their horizons, beats & pieces and its big ideas should help them nurture their quest for the new.
Whaling City Sound
There aren't many singers, male or female, who have been at the top of their game, let alone endured, for more than half a century. Tony Bennett is one who springs to mind. Ella Fitzgerald also enjoyed a long and productive careerand we mustn't overlook the incomparable Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra, who started crooning as a teenager in Hoboken, NJ, and kept on doing so almost to the end of his life at age eighty-two. On Double Exposure the vocalist is Frank D'Rone, who began his career as a guitarist in his native Rhode Island, released his debut album as a singer (at age thirty-seven) in 1959, and recorded this latest one as he neared his eightieth birthday in 2012.
While the pipes aren't quite as firm, unerring or rust-free as they were in D'Rone's heyday (After the Ball, from 1960, is a splendid case in point), neither has he the voice of one who would soon be an octogenarian; in fact, far from it. And what D'Rone may lack in resilience he more than makes up for with a lifetime of experience. In other words, he knows how to get the most out of a song, whatever the mood or tempo. As Nat Cole once said of D'Rone: "He sings from the heart." He does so here on five numbers accompanied only by his guitar and on half a dozen others with a big band led by Phil Kelly who also wrote the charts.
The large ensemble is present on the challenging curtain-raiser, "When the Sun Comes Out," and the odd-numbered tracks thereafter ("Pure Imagination," "Pick Yourself Up," "The One I Love," "Speak Low," "Lover Come Back to Me"). D'Rone is by himself on "Make Someone Happy," "Just Imagine," "The Very Thought of You," "Dancing on the Ceiling" and "Oh You Crazy Moon." Kelly's arrangements are genial and unpretentious, giving D'Rone ample space in which to express himself. A number of the sidemen are members of Kelly's Washington state-based ensemble, the Northwest Prevailing Winds. D'Rone takes things more slowly on the vocal / guitar numbers, and it is here that the inescapable wear and tear on the pipes is sometimes perceptible, but not so much as to detract from the over-all performance, which is superb.
While D'Rone certainly earns high marks for longevity, Double Exposure is far more than a mere curiosity, an impressive example of someone who can still sing at an advanced age. D'Rone not only sings well, he sings well for someone of almost any age, and therein lies the album's merit. Whatever the mastery needed to be a world-class singer, D'Rone invariably proves that he still has it.
Tracks and Personnel
From There to Here