Swingin' on a Riff . . . Hangin' by a Thread?
Another Feather in Jazzed Media's Cap
Jazzed Media's documentary film Blue Flame: Portrait of a Jazz Legend, which surveys the life and career of bandleader Woody Herman, has received a 2013 Hermes Creative AwardGold in the documentary film category. This is the eleventh film award for Graham Carter, owner of Jazzed Media in Denver, CO.
And Last But Not Least . . .
Fifteen years ago, during a phone conversation with Mike Ricci, overseer of a fairly new web site named All About Jazz, I asked if he was in need of any reviewers. "We could use someone to review big bands," he replied. And that is how Big Band Report (and Big Band Caravan) came into being. I've had a marvelous time writing these columns, and especially befriending musicians, many of whom I've never met in person and know only through their superlative big-band recordings, about which I've had the great privilege of sharing a few words of appraisal and support. But all good things must end, and while it pains me to say so, this is the last column I'll be writing for AAJ. Lest it be misread, however, that I am "retiring" (at age seventy-eight), that is definitely not the case. I'm in good health, and plan to continue reviewing big-band (and other) CDs as long as I am able. So to those who have recorded, are recording or plan to record, the message is: keep those albums coming, and I'll do what I can to share their message with others. It has been a pleasure, friends, and now we'll close as we always do, with one last reminder to keep swingin'!
Recent Big Band Releases
Phil Woods / DePaul University Jazz Ensemble
Right to Swing
There must be something about DePaul University that Phil Woods finds especially irresistible, as the celebrated alto saxophonist returned to the Chicago campus in November 2011 to record his fourth album in less than seven years with director Bob Lark's intrepid jazz ensemble. Actually, that's not altogether precise, as only the second half of the session encompasses the full ensemble; the five-movement Rights of Swing, first recorded by Woods' octet in 1961, opens the album and is performed by a tentet comprised of members of the larger band with Woods as quarterback and principal soloist.
Besides composing and arranging Rights of Swing, Woods wrote every other number on the album and arranged "Hank Jones" and "Blues for Lopes." The other charts are by Carl Kennedy ("Weak End"), Paul Dietrich ("Pairing Off") and Cormac McCarthy ("Casanova"). The opening suite, extensively updated since its debut more than half a century ago, is sharp and well-drawn, especially so considering the fact that students are sitting in for the likes of Tommy Flanagan, Buddy Catlett, Osie Johnson, Mickey Roker, Julius Watkins, Curtis Fuller, Willie Dennis and Sahib Shihab. There's nary a bump in the road, and Woods isn't the only soloist who earns plaudits. Trumpeter Dave Kaiser is impressive on the second movement, "Ballad," while elsewhere, saxophonists Brent Griffin, Sean Packard and Mark Hiebert, pianist Pete Benson, trombonist Andy Baker and vibraphonist David Bugher more than hold their own. The rhythm second (Baker, Bugher, bassist Matt Ulery, drummer Keith Brooks) is solid from end to end.
"Weak End" sets the second half of the album on a course that is far more powerful than weak, as is Chuck Parrish's lead trumpet, not to mention bracing solos by Woods and Kaiser. Although the pace slows on "Hank Jones," the ambience is no less emphatic, nor are the spellbinding statements by Woods and Benson. Dietrich not only arranged the up-tempo "Pairing Off" but solos nicely to complement another well-aimed broadside by Woods. "Casanova" is an even-tempered bossa nova whose unhurried solos are by Woods and Bugher, after which "Blues for Lopes" rings down the curtain with a hard-swinging anthem that makes room for buoyant solos by Woods, baritone Adam Turman, trumpeter Kazumasa Terashima, trombonist Alex Wasily, altos Griffin and Hiebert, bassist Ulery and drummer Brooks.