July and August aren’t the only things that are hot in Nebraska. The Omaha Big Band produces some sparks of its own on Swing This!,
a scorching debut album that finds the 17–member ensemble swinging lustily through a tasteful program of Jazz standards and contemporary charts. The band is obviously well–rehearsed and ready, and there’s little to find fault with aside from the recording’s “concert hall” ambiance, which lessens its over–all clarity, the too–sluggish tempo on Tom Kubis’ marvelous arrangement of “When You’re Smilin’,” and an almost imperceptible slip by the brass on Joe Garland’s “In the Mood.” These modest blemishes are more than overshadowed by the OBB’s propensity to cook as brashly as the occasion demands, starting with Gordon Goodwin’s driving arrangement of “I’ve Found a New Baby” (with solos to match by trumpeter Charles Saenz and tenor Stan Harper). The rest of the program consists mainly of familiar fare by Basie (“One O’Clock Jump”), Strayhorn / Ellington (“Satin Doll,” “Take the ‘A’ Train”), Neal Hefti (“Li’l Darlin’”) and Louis Prima (“Sing, Sing, Sing”), the lively “Bugle Call Rag” and impressive new compositions by Dave Metzger (“Makin’ Bacon”), Jeff Jarvis (“Count on It”) and the Mambo Kings (“Mambo Caliente,” on which percussionist Michael Pujado is added). The OBB’s professionalism is conspicuous in the tight ensemble work, while the soloists, if less than awesome, are consistently enterprising with drummer Carlos Figueroa a particular standout on “Bugle Call Rag” (played so marvelously in the ’60s by the peerless Buddy Rich) and “Sing, Sing, Sing” (introduced in the ’30s by another giant, Gene Krupa). Others who create a favorable impression include Saenz, Harper (featured on “Makin’ Bacon”), trumpeter Curtis Pelster (ditto on ”Li’l Darlin’”), leader / trombonist Chris Acker, tenor Darren Pettit, altos Tom Hartig and Ken Janak, baritone Dave Polson and pianist Dan Cerveny. Polson, Pettit, Janak, Harper, Hartig, Saenz and Cerveny all solo on the scurrying “‘A’ Train.” Before closing, a few words must be written about the album’s 63:42 playing time, which is somewhat misleading — the timing for the final track, “In the Mood,” is given as 13:03, whereas the song itself plays for only 3:07. After more than five minutes of silence (at the 8:22 mark) someone (unidentified) enters playing “Sentimental Journey” (and we use the word “playing” in the loosest possible sense) on an out–of–tune horn of some sort (tenor sax?), followed by a monologue that sounds like a half–baked impression of Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. Bottom line — subtract about ten minutes from the playing time, which (for the band) is less than fifty–four minutes. An aberration, yes, but one that doesn’t lessen in any way the persuasive impact of the OBB’s splendid inaugural album.
Contact:Chris Acker and the Omaha Big Band, 907 N. 48th St., Omaha, NE 68132 (phone 402–968–6768; e–mail email@example.com; web site, www.omahamusic.com/EXTRA
Personnel: Chris Acker, trombone, director; Ken Janak, Tom Hartig, alto sax; Stan Harper, Darren Pettit, tenor sax; Dave Polson, baritone sax; Joel Edwards, Curtis Pelster, Charles Saenz, Jon Yates, trumpet; Dr. Noel Johnson, Bill Kearney, trombone; Jay Wise, bass trombone; Dan Cerveny, keyboards; Jeff Scheffler, guitar; Steve Gomez, bass; Carlos Figueroa, drums; Michael Pujado, percussion (