Remember those boisterous, heavy–swinging in–concert albums from the late ’50s–early ’60s by the Terry Gibbs Dream Band? I was reminded of them while listening to Sight Readin’, Baby! by Vaughn Wiester’s Columbus, Ohio–based Famous Jazz Orchestra. Not that Wiester’s cobbled–together orchestra is as talented (or even as famous) as Terry’s (not many bands can outclass such sidemen as Richie Kamuca, Bill Perkins, Jack Nimitz, Al Porcino, Conte Candoli, Stu Williamson, Frank Rosolino, Mel Lewis and the others in Gibbs’ ensemble), but the same loose and playful spirit envelops this session, recorded last year during one (or more) of the band’s regular Monday evening gigs at the Columbus Music Hall. On the evidence presented here, one fact about the Famous Jazz Orchestra can be stated with assurance, and that is that everyone definitely comes to play. Addressing the album’s “colorful” title, Wiester says, “The volume of the [orchestra’s] book coupled with the constant rotation of personnel means that in any given set there’s at least someone who’s sight–reading from time to time, if not the whole band!” Well, if one or more members of the band are sight–reading on this session, they’re doing one helluva good job, as there aren’t many potholes in the road (even though the reed section seems rather stiff and unsure of itself on Dick Cone’s “Swing Easy”). With due respect to the luminaries mentioned above, Wiester’s orchestra has several capable soloists of its own including pianist Mark Flugge, trumpeters Kim Pensyl and Tim Perdue, tenors Jay Miglia and Andrew Waters, trombonists Matt Ellis and John Hall, baritone Mark Donavan and guitarist Jeff Ludwig. Drummer Matt Crouse is sharp and steady (Rick Brunetto sits in on “All or Nothing at All”), bassist Jeremy Laukhof never less than impressive. The band’s library is an agreeable blend of standards, originals (one of the best of which is Al Waslohn’s lusty “Hungover Square”) and Jazz evergreens (“Giant Steps,” “Moten Swing”). There are three vocals, by Kelly McLennan ("The Song Is You"), Dwight Lenox ("All or Nothing at All") and Lisa Clark ("Out of This World"), which approaches our threshold of tolerance for a big-band recording. As if to make up for it, the orchestra closes the set with one of our favorite big-band charts, Bill Holman's wonderful arrangement of Benny Goodman / Chick Webb / Edgar Sampson's "Stompin' at the Savoy" (on which tenor Miglia even sounds a bit like former Kenton mainstay Bill Trujillo) a wonderful way to end a robust and admirable debut album. Cognizant of the many problems, financial and otherwise, that plague any big-band recording, we'll even overlook its modest 47:54 playing time. Wiester's orchestra may not be "famous" yet, but a few more albums on the order of this one and it could be.
Contact:Vaughn Wiester, 2253 N. High St., Columbus, OH 43201; phone 614–299–3756. The CD is available for $15 which includes the cost of shipping.
Track Listing: Hungover Square; Coisa #10; The Song Is You; Giant Steps; Surfboard; It
Personnel: Vaughn Wiester, leader; Brian Coon, Art Silva, Jay Miglia, Andrew Waters, Mark Donavan, saxes; Erik Gimbel, Larry McWilliams, Kim Pensyl, Tim Perdue, Edwin Santiago, trumpets; Chris Cromley, Matt Ellis, John Hall, Bill England, trombones; Kie Watkins, tuba; Sarah Brown, Natalie Porreca, horns; Mark Flugge, piano; Jeff Ludwig, guitar; Jeremy Laukhuf, bass; Matt Crouse, Rick Brunetto (