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Big Band Report

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

By Published: June 14, 2013
Concert No. 3, I must confess, left me cold, even though it featured one of my favorite trumpeters, the incomparable Bobby Shew
Bobby Shew
Bobby Shew
b.1941
trumpet
. This was "Miles Ahead: The Classic Miles Davis + 19 Collaboration with Gil Evans." Classic or not, I've never been a fan of the album or the arrangements. The tunes were played without respite, as on the album, starting with the first five: "Springsville," "The Maids of Cadiz," "The Duke," "My Ship" and "Miles Ahead." After pausing momentarily to turn the album over (figuratively speaking) and reset the needle, Shew continued with "Blues for Pablo," "New Rhumba," "The Meaning of the Blues," "Lament" and "I Don't Want to Be Kissed (By Anyone but You)." Shew and the seventeen-piece ensemble that accompanied him were directed by Matt Harris. Everyone seemed pleased by the performance; I was bored, as I was when I heard the original recording, even though Shew was a more than commendable replacement for Miles. To each his own, I suppose. As Ellington said, "It don't mean a thing . . ."

After brunch, many of those in the audience adjourned to the Meridian Room for the fourth and final panel discussion, moderated by Helen Borgers with panelists Kim Richmond and Chris Walden. A third panelist, Bob Curnow, who was to lead his L.A. Big Band Reunion in the week's endmost concert, was unable to be there owing to back surgery. In Curnow's absence, Shew stepped in to lead the ensemble, which performed arrangements by Curnow, mostly of the music of Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
b.1954
guitar
and Lyle Mays
Lyle Mays
Lyle Mays
b.1953
keyboard
. There was yet one more concert before the supper break, by Richmond's Concert Jazz Orchestra, performing nine of the dozen selections on their recent CD, Artistry, a tribute to Stan Kenton, in whose orchestra Richmond played in 1967. Among them were Richmond's contemporary versions of Kenton's theme, "Artistry in Rhythm," as well as the venerable "Intermission Riff" and "Peanut Vendor." Richmond wrote "Anchor of Hope" and "Poetry" with Kenton in mind. Completing the program were Neal Hefti's "Virna," the standards "Invitation" and "Over the Rainbow," and one song from a movie: Allie Wrubel / Ray Gilbert's "Zip-a-Dee-Doo- Dah" (from the 1946 Disney film Song of the South). Richmond calls his version "Zippidy Altered," and for good reason, as the original melody has been recast and twisted out of shape. Too bad, as that happens to be one of my personal favorite songs. It sounds okay on the album, not so much in concert. Solos, however, were splendid throughout, especially guitarist Tom Hynes on "Over the Rainbow" and Richmond (alto) on "Invitation." "Poetry," which closes the album, was placed third here, with "Anchor of Hope" the finale. A respectable live performance, but to hear the orchestra at its best, track down the CD.

By now the light at the end of the tunnel was shining brightly, as Bobby Shew led the L.A. Big Band Reunion onstage for the week's final concert. After apologizing for Curnow's absence and assuring everyone that he wanted to be present to lead the band but was barred by his doctors, Shew opened the set in the best way possible, with Curnow's wonderful arrangement of Metheny's "It's Just Talk," featuring trombonist Dave Woodley. Bob Sheppard's soprano glistened on "James," and he was heard again on alto (with trumpeter Ron Stout and trombonist Alan Kaplan) on "Chet's Call," which Shew said was "the only bebop song" in Curnow's library. Three more charming tunes ("Wherever You Go," "Stranger in Town," "Every Summer Night") followed, the last spotlighting guitarist Tim May and Stout, before Shew reached for his flugelhorn to enhance Metheny's loveliest melody, "Always and Forever," written for his parents. Jerry Pinter's smooth tenor was featured on "See the World," Sheppard's alto and Stout's trumpet on "Afternoon." Stout stepped up to solo one last time on the rhythmic finale, "Minuano." With that, the four days had come to a close, and if any of those who came were less than happy they must be extremely hard to please.

Epilogue


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