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Big Band Report

Swingin' on a Riff . . . Hangin' by a Thread?

By Published: June 14, 2013
Saturday evening's final concert, by the Holman band, was a real head-scratcher. On the one hand, the ensemble was keen and ready, as one would expect from a band that rehearses regularly; no fault could be found with the soloists, and the charts bore the conspicuous Holman imprint. On the other hand, only one selection on the program was new (at least to me); the rest of what was played had been heard before, much of it under similar circumstances, and indeed half of the eight numbers (including the encore, "Bemsha Swing") were recorded at earlier LAJI events, for the albums The Bill Holman Band Live ("Woodrow," "Zoot 'n Al") and Hommage ("Zamboni," "Bemsha Swing"). The only number fresh to these ears was "Sweet Spot," a tasteful ballad showcasing the awesome Carl Saunders on trumpet and Doug Webb on soprano sax. Holman reached back to 1954 for "Lover Man," written as a feature for Lee Konitz with the Stan Kenton Orchestra; to 1988 for "St. Thomas" (from the album World Class Music) and to 1995 for "No Joy in Mudville" (from the album A View from the Side, both on JVC). So what to make of it? Well, if you didn't mind hearing these songs again, you probably had a most enjoyable time. As noted, the band was first-rate, and there were laudable solos by Saunders, Webb, alto Bruce Babad (sitting in for Konitz on "Lover Man"), trumpeters Ron Stout and Bob Summers, alto Billy Kerr, tenor Rickey Woodard
Rickey Woodard
Rickey Woodard
b.1950
saxophone
, baritone Bob Efford
Bob Efford
b.1928
, trombonists Scott Whitfield and Erik Hughes, pianist Christian Jacob and young drummer Jake Reed. Me? I'd have preferred to hear a few new charts (or the Holman classic, "Stompin' at the Savoy"). Aside from that, no complaints. Three days down, one to go.

Sunday, May 26

Sunday's film No. 4, "The Birth of the Cool and Beyond," highlighting clips of Miles Davis / Gil Evans
Gil Evans
Gil Evans
1912 - 1988
composer/conductor
, Shorty Rogers, Marty Paich
Marty Paich
1925 - 1995
composer/conductor
and the vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, among others, was followed by the weekend's centerpiece, a brunch and three concerts in the Marquis Ballroom, which had been rearranged so that those who sprang for food were seated at tables in front of the bandstand, others in more conventional seats behind a railing. The combination of music and food drew what was probably the week's largest audience (although the bar had been set rather low). The first of the concerts, "The Real Birth of the Cool: The Music of Claude Thornhill
Claude Thornhill
Claude Thornhill
1909 - 1965
vocalist
," showcased arrangements by Evans and a barely post-teen Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
1927 - 1996
sax, baritone
, performed by an all-star ensemble conducted by Hollywood composer / arranger Chris Walden
Chris Walden
Chris Walden

arranger
. Included were two of Mulligan's compositions ("Five Brothers," "Jeru") and his arrangements of Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
's "Yardbird Suite" and "Donna Lee," Noel Coward's "Poor Little Rich Girl," "Rose of the Rio Grande" and George Wallington
George Wallington
George Wallington
1924 - 1993
piano
's "Godchild." Evans arranged "Robbins' Nest," "Anthropology" and Thornhill's theme, "Snowfall." The over-all impression was one of amazement at how well these charts have stood the test of time. The band was remarkably tidy, while the soloists comprised the usual suspects plus alto Ann Patterson, baritone Bob Efford, pianist Rich Eames and guitarist Doug MacDonald. Trumpeter Saunders was especially mind-blowing on "Donna Lee." Bassist Putter Smith and drummer Paul Kreibich rounded out the first-class rhythm section.

The second concert, "The Music of the Miles Davis Nonet," was performed by a nonet (what else?) led by trumpeter Chuck Findley who sounds nothing like Miles (insert sadness or applause here), playing songs from the "Birth of the Cool" album in the order in which they were recorded (and reprising the original solos note- for-note). While that may seem to be easy, it really isn't, and Findley and his mates deserve high marks for making the effort. The band rested between numbers by swapping "Miles Davis stories," most of which were too indelicate to repeat here. All, however, were humorous in their own way. Two numbers from the Thornhill book, "Jeru" and "Godchild," reappeared here, alongside such paragons as "Move," "Venus de Milo," "Budo," "Israel," "Deception" and "Boplicity." The nonet received a well- deserved standing ovation.


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