From Charlie Christian to Charlie Parker
I got to thinking as I listened to them on headphones recently while working out that drummer Danny DImperio, who earned his stripes with the likes of Woody Herman and Maynard Ferguson, among others, recorded two of the more electrifying big-band albums of the last decade or so, Big Band Bloviation, Vols 1 and 2, and that no more than a handful of big-band enthusiasts may even be aware of their existence. I do know it took me forever to find copies (and I'm supposed to know what I'm doing), and to this day I couldn't tell anyone without doing any research where to find them. I can't speak to D'Imperio's motivation except to say that it obviously doesn't include record sales. Nevertheless, he has produced a pair of albums that beyond a doubt deserve to be widely heard, as they embody the finest elements of big-band jazz performed by musicians whose creds are beyond reproach. I don't know how D'Imperio persuaded so many topnotch artists to perform as sidemen in his ensemble; I'm only happy he did.
To begin with, any trumpet section led by the indomitable Dave Stahl is guaranteed to earn a blue ribbon, and when it embodies such other standouts as Greg Gisbert, Joe Magnarelli, Chris Persad Group, The Dautaj, Marcus Gilmore , Coquito, Fri, Dennis Dotson and Glenn Drewes, so much the better. In the reed section, you won't find a sharper or more engaging tenor saxophone soloist than Eric Alexander (dig his breathtaking two-minute introduction to Tadd Dameron's "Good Bait" on Vol. 1), while award-winning baritone Gary Smulyan and longtime D'Imperio teammate Gary Pribek on alto more than hold their own in the ad-lib department. Tenors Lew Tabackin and Ralph Lalama sit in briefly on Vol. 2. Trombones? How about John Mosca, Larry Farrell, Bruce Eidem and Jason Jackson. There are no lemons in that bunch. Turning to the rhythm section, all that need be said is that the lead accompanist is pianist Barry Harris. Guitarist Peter Bernstein is there too, as are D'Imperio and bassist Peter Mack.
Impressive as the ensemble and soloists are, D'Imperio's choice of material is arguably even more so, much like delicious frosting on a well-baked cake. Besides "Good Bait," the selections on Vol. 1 include Willie Maiden's "Three More Foxes" (scorching solos courtesy of Persad, Magnarelli and Gisbert), bassist Sam Jones' irresistible "Del Sasser," Don Sebesky's marvelous arrangement of "Danny Boy" (a vehicle for Stahl's Maynard-like trumpet), Wes Montgomery's "Four on Six," Alan Broadbent's "Adam's Apple," Bird's "Red Cross" and Clifford Brown's "Daahoud." Vol. 2 opens with Phil Kelly's "Sweet Georgia Upside Down," which precedes Frank Loesser's "Brotherhood of Man" (nicely arranged by Tony Klatko), the standard "Come Rain or Come Shine," Diz's "Groovin' High," Mike Abene's classic "Fox Hunt," Bill Stapleton's "Bill's Blues," Lee Morgan's delightful waltz, "Ceora," and Parker's lyrical "Yardbird Suite." Vol. 1 and tracks 4, 7 and 8 on Vol. 2 were recorded in October 2001, the other tracks on Vol. 2 in November 2003. And everything sounds as though it could have been recorded in the last week or so. This isn't meant to be a review (that has already been done) but more a reminder that there are at least a couple of terrific big-band albums out there somewhere that you may not have heard but definitely should.
And that's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin' . . . !
New and Noteworthy
1. James Morrison, Snappy Too (Morrison Records)
2. Aschaffenburger Big Band, Second Take (Main-Echo)
3. Stan Kenton / U Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Double Feature, Vol 3 (Tantara Productions)
4. JazzMN Big Band, Enriching Life with Jazz (Self Published)
5. NYJO, A Christmas Carol in Six Movements (Stanza Music)
6. Alon Yavnai / NDR Big Band, Shir Ahava (NDR)
7. Landes Jugend Orchester Bayern, Wie Heisst der Typ? (Self Published)
8. Millennium Jazz Orchestra, Distrust All Rules (MJO>
9. Big Band Burghausen, Blue Truth (B'Jazz)
10. Red Bank Jazz Orchestra, Strike Up the Band! (Hip City Jazz)
11. University Big Band, Stompin' at the University (Cat Sound Records)
12. Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, Live on the Plaza (KCJO Records)
13. Harry Smallenburg Jazz Ensemble, Just What I Was Thinking (Self Published)
14. Eyal Vilner, Introducing the Eyal Vilner Big Band (Gut String Records)
15. University of Northern Iowa Jazz Band One, Let Go (Self Published)