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Big Band Report

In Tune or Not in Tune... That Is the Question

By Published: April 2, 2013
After opening with Kenton's swinging, seldom-heard arrangement of the traditional folk song "Arkansas Traveler" from 1941 and a chorus of his first sizable hit, "Eager Beaver," from two years later, Disc 1 embodies features for Cooper (Shorty Rogers
Shorty Rogers
Shorty Rogers
1924 - 1994
trumpet
' "Coop"), Candoli ("Pennies from Heaven"), Shew ("Maynard Ferguson
Maynard Ferguson
Maynard Ferguson
1928 - 2006
trumpet
"), Perkins ("Yesterdays") and Shank ("Stella by Starlight"), interspersed with Rugolo's "Collaboration" and "Machito," the memorable Kenton theme, "Artistry in Rhythm," and a pair of master works by Holman: "The Tall Guy" (whose playing time is nineteen minutes) and, as an encore, "Stompin' at the Savoy." Cooper's solo, as nimble and buoyant as ever, is especially heart-wrenching, as he succumbed to a heart attack less than two weeks after the session was recorded. I can honestly say that it brought tears to at least one listener's eyes. Candoli is resplendent on "Pennies," as are Shew (one of the few trumpeters who could pull that off) on Rogers' acrobatic "Maynard," Perkins on "Yesterdays" and Shank on "Stella." Barduhn, Candoli and Perkins (on soprano) share the limelight on "The Tall Guy" and again on the irrepressible "Savoy." "That concludes the dress rehearsal," Bernhart deadpans afterward. "The real concert starts in half an hour." Pardon the exclamation mark, but there's only one word that suitably describes the Kenton Tribute Band's "rehearsal": Wow!

Holman is prominent again on Disc 2, having written and arranged the first three numbers: "The Opening," "Tenor Piece" and "Cuba Jazz" (which should be heard more often). Rugolo is represented by "Artistry in Gillespie" and "Three Bop" along with his arrangements of Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
's "Yardbird Suite" and the standard "All the Things You Are," Bill Russo by his "Vignette," "An Esthete on Clark Street" and "Altonality" and arrangements of "It's the Talk of the Town" and "Autumn Leaves." Completing the program are Manny Albam
Manny Albam
Manny Albam
1922 - 2001
arranger
's propulsive "Guane," Ken Hanna
Ken Hanna
b.1921
's galvanic "Durango" and Shorty Rogers' arrangement of the ballad "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." Throughout, the McGill ensemble, astutely directed by Gordon Foote, remains uncommonly close to the spirit of Kenton, so much so that the over-all effect is astonishing, almost like hearing the Kenton Orchestra "reborn" in the hands of these remarkable young musicians. CD 2 opens, appropriately enough, with Holman's "The Opening," written for the second Festival of Modern American Jazz concert tour in 1954 and featuring spicy solos by trumpeter Andre Wickenheiser, tenor saxophonist Mike Bjella and alto Michael Johancsik. Bjella is showcased on Holman's "Tenor Piece" and solos with trumpeter Andy King and guest conguero Kiko Osario on the rhythmically and harmonically exciting "Cuba Jazz."

Russo is up next with the buoyant "Esthete on Clark Street," which brings out the best in trombonists Geoff Cronin, Alex Truelove and Taylor Donaldson. Pianist Andrew Boudreau is front and center on the brooding "Vignette," guest altos Remi Bolduc and Donny Kennedy with the ensemble's Johancsik and Benjamin Deschamps on the effervescent alto feature, "Altonality." Albam's "Guane" and Hanna's "Durango," either or both of which would have been at home in Johnny Richards' Cuban Fire suite, are vehicles for, respectively, trumpeter Dominic Rossi and trombonist Donaldson. After "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," the rest of Disc 2 is all Rugolo, with a sumptuous treatment of "ATTYA" leading to "Artistry in Gillespie," "Yardbird Suite" and one of Rugolo's few bop-influenced works, "Three Bop." Drummer Mat MacEachern is superb (as he is from end to end) on "Artistry," whose perceptive soloists are Johancsik, Truelove and Bjella, while Deschamps, Truelove, Bjella and trumpeter Caroline Johnson share the spotlight on the groovy "Suite," King, Bjella and Deschamps on the fiery "Three Bop."

In a blindfold test, you'd have a hard time convincing anyone that the McGill Jazz Orchestra isn't a professional working group (yes, they're that good), while the consummate artistry of the Kenton Tribute Band speaks for itself. If you've been waiting for a letdown in this splendid series, you'll have to wait a while longer, as the latest edition is by any measure as stellar as those that have come before it. Some listeners, in fact, may suggest that Volume 4 is in many ways superior to its precursors, an opinion this reviewer would not deign to challenge.

Rob Parton Big Band
We'll Be Together Again
JazzTech Records
2013


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