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This is the first album by Dave Stevens’ surprisingly proficient Pennsylvania-based big band; the hope here is that it won’t be the last. The intention, when the band got together in September ’02 at Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA, was to piece together a concise demo for supporters and prospective sponsors within arm’s length of its neighborhood. Thankfully, that plan was scrapped and a full-blown album recorded, as Stevens’ thirteen-year-old ensemble is far too accomplished to be confined to and heard solely in its customary neck of the woods, namely western Pennsylvania-eastern Ohio.
Roughly half of the material on Sound Storm is from the Stan Kenton book, not a bad book to be perusing. Included are Willie Maiden’s good-natured “Minor Booze,” Bill Holman’s fiery “Malaga,” Hank Levy’s seductive arrangement of “A Time for Love” and Dee Barton’s wistful glance at “Here’s That Rainy Day.” Rounding out the absorbing program are Don Menza’s lively “Groovin’ Hard,” Don Schamber’s classic treatment of the standard “Time After Time,” John Wasson’s potent arrangement of Juan Tizol’s durable “Caravan,” Randy Purcell's warm remembrance of “The Way We Were" (featuring lead trumpeter Jeff Gibbens) and the (literally) flag-waving finale, “America,” wonderfully scored by Bob Curnow.
The band, as I noted, is remarkably alert and resourceful with power to spare, a topnotch rhythm section anchored by drummer Brad Amidon, and a number of persuasive soloists, chief among them trumpeter Jeff Jarvis, alto Andy Weinzler, trombonist Purcell, tenor Ron Paladino and pianist Mike Jones. The more I listen, the more it seems that the reservoir of big-band musical talent in every nook and cranny of our spacious country is well-nigh boundless.
The Dave Stevens Big Band is another conspicuous example of that, handily laying to rest the presumption that any big band from western Pennsylvania must perforce be less self-assured or capable than its big-city counterparts. Trust me, this band can play with anyone. And if you can’t trust me, listen for yourself, as Stevens and his companions have produced recorded evidence to verify the claim.
Track Listing: Caravan; A Little Minor Booze; A Time for Love; Malaga; The Way We Were; Groovin
Personnel: Dave Stevens, conductor; Jeff Gibbens, Jim Bohm, Jeff Jarvis, Brian Hannah, Ron May, trumpet; Andy Weinzler, Geoffrey Wands, alto sax, flute; Ron Paladino, Lloyd Johns, tenor sax; John Marszalek, baritone sax; Doug Dressler, Kent Tucker, Randy Purcell, Dave Denton, Sloan Ladwig, trombone; Mike Jones, piano; John Huegel, bass; Brad Amidon, drums.