Buddy Rich: In a Zone of His Own
Setting aside the thematic framework (which is largely inapposite), what MacDonald has written (and Promane has orchestrated) is a series of musical essays that bring out the best in the orchestra, even though in most instances they are far removed from the more conventional straight-ahead swing of a Basie, Herman, Rich or even Rob McConnell. There are, however, exceptions to the order, as for example the aggressive "Blues for Jerome," which produces sparks about as often as anything devised by the aforementioned bands of days gone by; the buoyant "Four Shades of Light" (with flashy solos by trumpeter Brian O'Kane and guitarist Lorne Lofsky); or MacDonald's fiery tenor solos on "Thank You for the Life You Have Given Me" and again on the closing reprise of "Dark Autumn" (a briefer version of which opens the album). Elsewhere, the music is relatively more sedate albeit no less seductive. Bassist Neil Swainson is superb on "The Prod," MacDonald likewise on soprano ("The Prod") and tenor (with trumpeter Kevin Turcotte) on the playful "Sister Kim." Trombonist Al Kay and tenor Pat LaBarbera help brighten "Four Shades of Darkness." "Chorale" is a lovely set piece that leads to the syncopated "Martha" (perceptive solos by MacDonald on tenor and Nancy Walker on piano). Mention should also be made of alto saxophonist P.J. Perry's lone solo, on "Blues for Jerome," as it is a corker and one of the session's highlights.
While MacDonald has assembled a world-class ensemble, loaded with alumni from celebrated groups led by McConnell, Dave McMurdo and others, what sets it apart are his tasteful compositions and Promane's astute orchestrations. The Family Suite for Large Ensemble should quickly earn approval and applause from any family anywhere.
Dani Felber Big Band Explosion
Thank You, Fos!
If Frank Foster were still with us, a sure guess is that he would warmly embrace this scintillating tribute by trumpeter Dani Felber's superlative Swiss-based Big Band Explosion, which crackles with good-natured charm and energy from stem to stern and port to starboard. The reason is simple: this is Foster's kind of musicmelodically engaging, rhythmically strong, and invariably swinging, as were the compositions and arrangements produced by Fos for his best-known employer, the legendary Count Basie.
Felber met Foster in 2009, two years before Frank's passing, and the kindred souls became close friends. Foster encouraged his young companion to move in new directions, offered helpful advice and even gave Felber a number of his superlative charts including a new arrangement of his most memorable theme, "Shiny Stockings." Of the dozen tunes on Thank You, Fos!, all save one (Neal Hefti's meteoric "Whirly Bird") were written by Foster (seven) or Felber. To amplify their import, Felber recruited a trio of eminent Basie alumnialto saxophonist Brad Leali, vocalist Carmen Bradford and drummer Butch Milesplus tenor saxophonist Eric Marienthal, long a mainstay in pianist Chick Corea's Grammy Award-winning Elektric Band, who further strengthen an already impressive ensemble. Bradford is heard twice, on Foster's pensive "Bring on the Raindrops" (complete with aqueous sound effects) and groovy "Papa Fos," on which her range and depth are no less than awesome.
While the music on offer embodies ingredients from ballads to blues, swinging is what Felber's band does best and most often, opening on an upbeat note with the leader's "Thank You, Fos!," which encompasses lively solos by Marienthal and pianist Jura Waida. Following "Shiny Stockings" (solos by Waida and trumpeter Gabriel Keogh) and "Raindrops," the ensemble dashes headlong into Felber's strapping "One Two Three" and Foster's galvanic "Love Handles" before slowing the pace on Foster's "Lady Carolyn" (earnest solos courtesy of Leali and trombonist Jurgen Neudert). Another barn-burner, Felber's finger-popping "Jorg on the Road," precedes Foster's soulful "Ode to Joe Newman" (showcasing trumpeters Rich Laughlin and Andrea Tofanelli with Felber on flugelhorn) and "Whirly Bird." Another sensuous ballad, Felber's "Sina's Dream" (spotlighting Marienthal's burnished soprano sax) leads to Foster's genial "Come On In" and the bustling finale, "Papa Fos." Leali solos nimbly on "Come On In," as he does on "Lady Carolyn," "One Two Three," "Jorg on the Road," "Whirly Bird" and "Papa Fos." Although Miles has no extended solos, his enthusiasm is contagious, and he makes sure the rhythm section is alert and cooking on every number, as he did for so many years as overseer of the renowned Basie orchestra.