This charming two–disc set by Germany’s world–class NDR Big Band was recorded in 1998, sixty years after clarinetist Benny Goodman’s legendary concert at Carnegie Hall in New York, and is meant to salute that memorable occasion. It’s not an exact re–creation, thank goodness, but a number of arrangements written especially for the Goodman band were meticulously transcribed from source materials, so what is heard — aside from the soloists, who are emphatically up–to–date — is in essence what was presented six decades ago. Goodman didn’t bring his own big band to the Carnegie Hall date, employing instead a smaller group whose members included trumpeters Harry James and Ziggy Elman, pianists Jess Stacy and Teddy Wilson, vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and drummer Gene Krupa augmented by members of the bands led by Duke Ellington and Count Basie. With that in mind, the NDR ensemble steps aside on five numbers for a quartet (“Body and Soul”) or quintet with Lutz Büchner sitting in for Benny, Wolfgang Schlüter for Hampton, Charly Antolini for Krupa and Simon Nabatov for Stacy or Wilson with bassist Lucas Lindholm rounding out the group. The superb tenor soloist on “Body and Soul” is Danny Moss, while Büchner is equally dazzling on “Memories of You,” everyone sparkles on the fleet–footed “Dizzy Spells” and Antolini dons his most persuasive Krupa wardrobe on the classic “Sing, Sing, Sing” (on which Büchner, Moss, Nabatov and trumpeter Ingolf Burkhardt toss in handsome solos). Another highlight is the well–traveled “Air Mail Special” with Moss and Büchner engaging in a spirited tenor duel and Schlüter miming Hampton. All but the last two selections on Disc 2 — “Big John’s Special,” “Don’t Be That Way” — were recorded during a commemorative concert in Hannover in January 1998. Those two were recorded 10 months later in a studio, but again an audience was present. Many of the familiar Goodman favorites are on parade — there’s probably nothing here you’ve not heard before — but the NDR ensemble and its spin–off group give every one of them a marvelous ride, for which the audiences are most appreciative. Yes, this is Swing Era music, but it’s played about as well as it can be by one of the world’s leading contemporary Jazz ensembles. In other words, if you find big bands appealing, you’ll warm quickly to this one.
Track listing: Disc 1 — Don’t Be That Way; One O’Clock Jump; Ostrich Walk; Potato Head Blues; Blue Reverie; Life Goes to a Party; Body and Soul; Avalon; The Man I Love; Blue Skies; Stealin’ Apples (47:15). Disc 2 — Blue Room; Swingtime in the Rockies; Memories of You; Dizzy Spells; Sing Sing Sing; Air Mail Special; Big John’s Special; Don’t Be That Way (45:40).