Budman-Levy Orchestra / Jens Wendelboe Big Band / DiMartino-Osland Jazz Orchestra
Budman / Levy Orchestra
From There to Here
If this splendid album, recorded two years ago (2010), is in any way emblematic of what lies ahead, the long-range outlook for big band jazz is indeed bright and auspicious. Saxophonist Alex Budman and trombonist Jeremy Levy have assembled a group of A-list musicians from the Los Angeles area who glide easily through Levy's elaborate compositions and arrangements with nary a lapse nor misstep, meanwhile swinging From There to Here in the finest big band tradition.
Levy, who moved to L.A. from Miami four years ago, wrote every number on the album save two, Bela Fleck / Jeff Coffin's "Zona Mona" and Michael Brecker's "Slings and Arrows," and arranged everything. Although he doesn't write or arrange, Budman is a strapping soloist who more than holds his own on soprano sax ("Miller Time"), bass clarinet ("Waiting") and tenor (half a dozen numbers). On "Waiting," Budman is accompanied by the ensemble and a string quartet. Levy wrote "Superbone Meets the Bud Man" as a feature for his trombone and Budman's tenor, but had the good sense to bring the peerless Andy Martin on board to play the role of "Superbone" to Alex's "Bud Man" (Martin solos again on "The Other One"). Even though Budman takes the solos, the reed section is an all-star group comprised (on various tracks) of altos Rick Keller, Phil Feather or Kevin Garren; tenors Glenn Morrissette, Glen Berger or Rob Hardt, and baritone Ken Fisher.
The sunny opener, "95 or 64," inspired by an auto excursion on I-95 and written in 6/4 time, embodies crisp solos by Budman and drummer Jamey Tate. "Miller Time," a graceful waltz written for Levy's composition teacher Ron Miller, precedes the buoyant "Zona Mona" (Budman, tenor; David Hughes, bass), the well-grooved "From There to Here" (showcasing Andy Langham's melodica), "It's Like That" (Andrew Synowiec, guitar) and "Idle Time," a sullen showpiece for Budman's tenor. "Brand New Year," which follows "The Other One" and precedes "Waiting," "Super Bone" and "Slings and Arrows," springs from a simple two-chord motif and includes purposeful solos by Langham and trumpeter Michael Stever. "Arrows," arranged when Levy learned of Brecker's passing, wraps the session in a cloak of unbridled intensity with kindred solos by Synowiecz and Budman.
Leading a big band these days is as close to a no-win dilemma as can be envisioned. Thank goodness there are headstrong enthusiasts like Alex Budman and Jeremy Levy who brush aside the odds and keep on making music. And not just any music, mind you, but the special kind that can be absorbed and appreciated on From There to Here, a remarkable album by any measure.
The Jens Wendelboe Big Band
Norwegian trombonist Jens Wendelboe is a superb composer / arranger with a New York City-area big band to match, and there's an abundance of Fresh Heat generated on the ensemble's latest recording, comprised of four original compositions by Wendelboe, one each by Joe Henderson ("Black Narcissus"), Steve Swallow ("Falling Grace"), Clifford Brown ("Joy Spring') and Rodgers and Hart's venerable "My Funny Valentine." The mystery is why any bandleader would choose to launch an album with vocalist Deb Lyons scatting on Brownie's classic "Joy Spring," but we must assume Wendelboe had some game plan in mind. Lyons sings as well as scats on the opener but Jon Hendricks' lyric is overwhelmed by a thunderous torrent of brass and reeds, making the words all but unintelligible (luckily, the lyric is reproduced on the CD tray). While the band quickly regains its balance behind snappy solos by guest trumpeter Vinnie Cutro and tenor saxophonist Joey Berkeley, the thought is that Wendelboe could have started with them to much greater effect.
Nothing much else is amiss save for Lyons' run-of-the-mill vocal on "Valentine," which follows "No Mercy," Wendelboe's clever riposte to Joe Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" (on which he solos smartly with trumpeter Steve Jankowski) and the ambrosial "Black Narcissus" (incisive solos by tenor Mark Feinberg and guest Rob Paparozzi on harmonica). Jankowski (muted) and soprano Tom Timko are out front on "Valentine." Wendelboe earned top honors in the Barga Jazz competition for his stylish arrangement of Swallow's lyrical "Falling Grace," whose earnest solos are by electric bassist Dave Anderson and guest tenor Ken Gioffre. Wendelboe's brusque trombone introduces the sauntering "What a Trip," on which he and trumpeter Bob Millikan's sunny ad libs are sandwiched around a tantalizing soli for 'bones and trumpets.
The last two numbers, written and arranged by Wendelboe, are dedications, the first ("Nix Vogel") to Norwegian drummer Ole Jacob Hansen, the second ("Suite to Bjorn") to Bjorn Kruse, Wendelboe's composition / orchestration teacher in Norway. The "Suite" earned Wendelboe the first of his three awards for composition of the year from NOPA (the Norwegian Popular Composers Union). Alto Mike Migliore, trumpeter Chris Rogers and drummer Lee Finkelstein are the soloists on "Nix Vogel," Migliore, Finkelstein, Timko and pianist Bill Heller on "Suite to Bjorn."
Wendelboe's band is letter-perfect throughout, while his compositions and arrangements are never less than exemplary. Setting aside the vocals (a slim part of the whole), Fresh Heat more than lives up to its name, providing close to an hour of dynamic and exhilarating big band jazz.
The DiMartino / Osland Jazz Orchestra
Sea Breeze Jazz
Quotient opens on a high note with Alan Baylock's buoyant title selection, and there's seldom a letdown thereafter as the Kentucky-based Vince DiMartino / Miles Osland Jazz Orchestra swings merrily along through an impressive melange of fifteen tasteful standards and originals on its second album, recorded in 2007. The co-leaders must be given a lion's share of the credit for that, as they not only chose the music but are superior soloists as wellDiMartino on trumpet or flugelhorn, Osland on alto or soprano saxophone and flute. They've also assembled a world-class orchestra that numbers several engaging soloists of its own, especially the talented pianist Raleigh Dailey, a fellow faculty member at the University of Kentucky in Lexington (where Osland serves as director of Jazz Studies).
Osland's evocative alto is showcased on Kurt Weill's "Speak Low" and Mike Tomaro's "A Sideward Glance," DiMartino's bell-toned trumpet and flugel on Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine" and Frank Mantooth's ballad "Erica," and they solo together (Osland on flute) on Mantooth's arrangement of the standard "Mean to Me' and (Osland on soprano) on the patriotic finale, Samuel Ward / Kaherine Lee Bates' "America," marvelously scored by Dailey. Vocalist Angie Ortega is heard twice, on Bob Mintzer's tongue-in-cheek "TV Blues" and the Gershwins' "I've Got a Crush on You" (with Dailey, Osland and DiMartino soloing on the former, trombonist Jim Grubbs on the latter). Rounding out the program are Bill Holman's beguiling arrangement of Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine," Peter Herbolzheimer's "Blues in My Shoes," Dizzy Gillespie's "Anthropology," David Stonaker's debonair "Better Believe It" and "Easy Does It" and Andy Weiner's easygoing "Late Shift Blues." Osland (soprano) and DiMartino solo with drummer John Willmarth on "Quotient" and (alto) "Anthropology."
Other soloists of note are Dailey, bassist Danny Cecil, trombonist Brad Kerns and trumpeter Rick Cook ("Blues in My Shoes"), Dailey and tenor Dave Anderson ("Better Believe It"), Cook and tenor Gordon Towell ("Late Shift Blues"), Cecil and trombonist David Henderson ("Easy Does It"). It's unclear whether any of DOJO's members are UK students, but if they are they must be the cream of the crop, as the ensemble is accomplished in every respect. Any telltale signs of weakness usually appear in the rhythm section, but not in this one: Dailey, Cecil, Willmarth and percussionist Jim Campbell are sharp and sturdy as they come. Quotient is warmly recommended, as is the orchestra's debut recording, Off the Charts (2001), with guest trumpeter Rob Parton.
beats & pieces big band
beats & pieces (lower case, no caps) is a high-energy big band from the UK whose young members are carrying on the tradition in their own singular, ultra-modern way. As the cast of the TV series Seinfeld would be quick to point out: "Not that there's anything wrong with that." To the contrary, no matter how the music is received (and that may vary widely), there's no doubt that these gentlemen (there are no ladies, save for a brief vocal by Najia Bagi on the mournful finale, "broken") can flat-out play.
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
Tracks: 95 or 64; Miller Time; Zona Mona; From There to Here; It's Like That; Idle Time; The Other One; Brand New Year; Waiting; Superbone Meets the Bud Man; Slings and Arrows.
Personnel: Alex Budman: co-leader, tenor, soprano sax, bass clarinet; Jeremy Levy: co-leader, composer, arranger, trombone; Jamie Hovorka: trumpet, flugelhorn; Rob Schaer: trumpet, flugelhorn; Michael Stever: trumpet, flugelhorn; Kyle Newmaster: trumpet, flugelhorn; Rick Keller: alto, soprano sax, flute; Phil Feather: alto sax, flute (1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10); Kevin Garren: alto sax, flute (2, 4, 7, 9, 11); Glenn Morrissette: tenor sax, clarinet; Glen Berger: tenor sax, clarinet (1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10); Rob Hardt: tenor sax (2, 4, 7, 9, 11); Ken Fisher: baritone sax, bassoon; Jason Thor: trombone; Jacques Voyemant: trombone (1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10); Francisco Torres: trombone (2, 4, 7, 9, 11); Paul Young: trombone; Denis Jiron: bass trombone; Andy Langham: piano, melodica; Andrew Synowiec: guitars; David Hughes: acoustic, electric bass; Jamey Tate: drums; Brian Kilgore: percussion; Andy Martin: trombone solos (7, 10); Songa Lee: violin (9); Lisa Liu: violin (9); Caroline Buckman: viola (9); Ginger Murphy: cello (9).
Tracks: Joy Spring; No Mercy; Black Narcissus; My Funny Valentine; Falling Grace; What a Trip; Nix Vogel (Dedicated to Ole Jacob Hansen); Suite to Bjorn.
Personnel: Jens Wendelboe: composer, arranger, conductor, trombone; Bob Millikan: trumpet; Steve Jankowski: trumpet; Rick Savage: trumpet; Chris Rogers: trumpet; Tom Timko: alto, soprano sax, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone sax; Michael Migliore: alto sax; Mark Fineberg: tenor sax; Joey Berkley: tenor sax; Sam Bortka: baritone sax; Dan Levine: trombone, euphonium; Charley Gordon: trombone; George Flynn: bass trombone, tuba; Bill Heller: piano, synthesizer; David Anderson: electric bass; Lee Finkelstein: drums; Deb Lyons: vocal (1, 4). Special guest soloists: Ken Gioffre: tenor sax (5); Rob Paparozzi: harmonica (3); Vinnie Cutro: trumpet (1).
Tracks: Quotient; Begin the Beguine; Speak Low; Blues in My Shoes; Mean to Me; A Sideward Glance; TV Blues; My Funny Valentine; Anthropology; Better Believe It; Erica; Late Shift Blues; I've Got a Crush on You; Easy Does It; America.
Personnel: Vince DiMartino: co-leader, trumpet, flugelhorn; Miles Osland: co-leader, soprano, alto sax, flute; Rich Byrd: trumpet, flugelhorn; Rick Cook: trumpet, flugelhorn; Mark Clodfelter: trumpet, flugelhorn; Greg Wing: trumpet, flugelhorn; Larry Nelson: alto sax, flute, clarinet; Doug Drewek: alto sax; Gordon Towell: tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Dave Anderson: tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Lisa Osland: baritone sax, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet; David Henderson: trombone; Jim Grubbs: trombone; Brad Kerns: trombone; Jeanie Lee: trombone; Louis "Hap" Bourgois: bass trombone; Raleigh Dailey: piano; Danny Cecil: bass; John Willmarth: drums; Jim Campbell: percussion; Anders Astrand: vibes, percussion.
Tracks: Bake; Yafw (Part 3); Three; Anymore; Jazzwalk; Elf; Sisterhood; Broken.
Personnel: Ben Cottrell: director; Owen Bryce: trumpet, flugelhorn; Graham South: trumpet, flugelhorn; Nick Walters: trumpet, flugelhorn; Anthony Brown, Sam Healey, Ben Watte: saxophones; Tim Cox: trombone; Simon Lodge: trombone; Paul Strachan: trombone; Anton Hunter: guiitar; Patrick Hurley: piano, Fender Rhodes; Harrison Wood: bass; Finlay Panter: drums; Najia Bagi: vocal (8); Tullis Rennie: electronics (8).
Tracks: When the Sun Comes Out; Make Someone Happy; Pure Imagination; Just Imagine; Pick Yourself Up; The Very Thought of You; The One I Love; Dancing on the Ceiling; Speak Low; Oh You Crazy Moon; Lover Come Back to Me.
Personnel: Phil Kelly: arranger, conductor; Frank D'Rone: vocals, guitar; Brad Allison: trumpet; Paul Baron: trumpet; Jay Thomas: trumpet; Steve Mostevoy: trumpet; Travis Ranney, Mark Taylor, Alexey Nikolaev, Jim Coile, Jack Klitzman: reeds; Gary Shutes: trombone; Dan Marcus: trombone; Dave Marriott: trombone; Nelson Bell: trombone; Randy Halberstadt: piano; Chuck Deardorf: bass; Gary Hobbs: drums; Gerald Stockton: percussion, fretless bass.