I first stumbled across bassist Jim Widner’s all–star big band about three years ago, and what a fortunate mishap that was. Rides Again, the band’s third recording and first in front of an audience (at Drury College in Springfield, MO), is as breathtaking as the previous two, and they were nothing short of spectacular. This is a band with power and panache to spare, and Widner’s seasoned campaigners can make an appetizing banquet out of any scraps of music set before them. Among those “scraps” are three incandescent compositions by saxophonist Kim Richmond and another by trombonist Paul McKee along with Thelonious Monk’s typically elliptical “Rhythm–a–Ning” (smartly arranged by McKee), Ellington’s “Mood Indigo,” Bobby Troup’s “The Meaning of the Blues,” the Count Basie / Joe Williams flag–waver, “Alright, Okay, You Win,” and a couple of charming standards, “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” and “Out of Nowhere” (Bill Holman’s classic chart, on which Bill Perkins’ quixotic tenor solo is alone worth the price of admission to this concert). Trumpeter Clay Jenkins is marvelous on Bill Matthews’ seductive treatment of “Meaning of the Blues,” as is Richmond on his warmhearted arrangement of “Wee Small Hours.” Pianist Reggie Thomas earns thunderous applause as arranger / soloist on “Mood Indigo,” while his wife, Mardra Thomas, strives valiantly to invoke the spirit of Joe Williams on “Alright, Okay, You Win.” The concert opens with McKee’s candid swinger, “Little Gus,” on which tenor Rick DiMuzio and trombonist Brett Stamps frame admirable solos. “Big Sur,” the first of Richmond’s charts, is a rhythmic cyclone powered by drummer Gary Hobbs and percussionist Rich Stitzel with assertive solo statements by DiMuzio and trumpeter Dave Scott. Hobbs and Stitzel are showcased with high–note trumpeter Mike Vax on Richmond’s Latin–voiced “Trump Card Suite I,” with Jenkins and Scott taking center stage on “Trump Card Suite II.” As we’ve mentioned trumpets and rhythm, we should acknowledge the tremendous lead work by Vax and John Harner and the unwavering support provided by Thomas, Hobbs, Stitzel, guitarist Brian Harman and the leader on upright bass. Also worth noting are the peppery solos by DiMuzio, McKee, Hobbs, Reggie Thomas and alto Dave Pietro on “Rhythm–a–Ning.” If there is one small cloud hovering above this enterprise it lies in the recorded sound, which is seldom as well–scrubbed as a studio session and embodies some minor distortion in a few of the ensemble’s tutti passages (at least, on my copy of the disc). In all other respects, this is about as near–perfect a contemporary big–band session as one could envision, and is warmly recommended.
Track listing: Little Gus; Alright, Okay, You Win; The Meaning of the Blues; Big Sur; In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning; Trump Card Suite I; Trump Card Suite II; Mood Indigo; Out of Nowhere; Rhythm–a–Ning (63:46).
Kim Richmond, Dave Pietro, alto sax, flute; Rick DiMuzio, Bill Perkins, tenor sax, flute; Jon Stone, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Paul McKee, Brett Stamps, Ron Anson, Jason Bennett (