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Speaking of stylish big bands that seem to emerge fully grown from out of nowhere, here's Speaking of Apropos, recorded about a year ago by drummer Lars Halle's eighteen-piece ensemblenot from nowhere but from that prominent breeding ground for outstanding East Coast jazz, Philadelphia, PA, where Halle, a Swedish expatriate, earns his daily bread teaching at the University of the Arts.
Even though the album, like many big-band enterprises these days, was fashioned on a shoestring and held together by duct tape, the intensity and enthusiasm of Halle and his companions are readily apparent, and a couple of tracks are reminiscent, at least in spirit, of the great Buddy Rich ensembles of the late '60s and early '70s. That's apropos, as Halle, who composed and arranged everything, is an accomplished drummer who drives the band with panache, although even his best efforts can't be compared to Buddy, who truly was in a class by himself.
There's even a nod to Perez Prado, Tito Puente and other Latin icons in the buoyant "Sonidos de la Calle," enhanced by Ryan Dankanich's gruff baritone sax, Randy Kapralick's smooth trombone and Mike Jarosz' fiery trumpet. The band enters swinging with "Das New Math," featuring tenor Seth Meicht and trumpeter Nick Corvino, and exits through the same door with Meicht and Corvino showcased again on the multi-hued "Speaking of Apropos." Kapralick is spotlighted on the absorbing "Epigram," pianist Jason Long on the enchanting ballad "Twice the Fool."
Completing the program are the thought-provoking "Panacea" (solos by Long and bass clarinetist Ben Vinci), groovy "Familiar Secrets" (Long, alto Todd Groves) and piquant "Odd Man Out" (Tim Jernigan, trombone; Carl Cox, alto). Be forewarned that there's a jarring five-second interlude about two and a half minutes into that one (at least on my copy) during which the band sounds like it was recorded during a rainstorm on an Edison cylinder. Otherwise, the sound quality and balance are quite respectable.
As for the LHJO, it's more than respectable, as are the leader's engaging songs and tasteful charts. A pity that an ensemble as talented as this one can't find a sponsor, but where big bands are concerned, that seems more the rule than the exception.
Track Listing: Das New Math; Panacea; Familiar Secrets; Epigram; Twice the Fool; Odd Man Out; Sonidos de la Calle; Speaking of Apropos (55:27).
Personnel: Lars Halle, leader, composer, arranger, drums; Matt Gallagher, Matt Cappy, Nick Corvino, Mike Billingsley, Mike Jarosz, trumpet, flugelhorn; Todd Groves, alto, soprano sax; Aaron Marisi (2, 4, 5, 8), Carl Cox (1, 3, 6, 7), alto sax; Seth Meicht, tenor sax; Ben Vinci, tenor sax, bass clarinet; Ryan Dankanich, baritone sax; Randy Kapralick, Tim Jernigan, Mark Capriotti, trombone; Earl Phillips, bass trombone; Jason Long, piano; Kevin Thaxton, bass.