Here’s a generous helping of Nouveau Swing from drummer Megan West’s California–based big band, which at least partly recoups in enthusiasm what it lacks in other areas, specifically precision. West, who has been playing drums since age twelve, formed her first band as long ago as 1975 and put the present group together last year. She steps aside on three numbers — “Honeysuckle Rose,” “It’s a Blue World,” “St. Louis Blues March” — to allow friend and mentor Jack Sperling to man the kit, and the two of them cross swords on Louis Prima’s “Sing Sing Sing.” Returning to our comment about precision, allowances must be made for the fact that the album was recorded in about three hours in front of a group of invited guests, which may account for the abrupt entrances and exits and annoying fade–outs that mar the session. The band does swing, at least moderately, much of the time, but the ensemble is at times more shaky than solid while soloists as a whole are no better than passable. They’re unlisted, which is no cause for concern. As a drummer West gets the job done (she’s at her flag–waving best on Bobby Sherwood’s “Elk’s Parade”) but even though she’s the leader she hasn’t much chance elsewhere to hoist the colors, aside from planting an extra kick on Sammy Nestico’s “Hayburner.” West commits one tactical error with some ill–advised and rather inept scatting on “Honeysuckle Rose.” If one believes that any Tom, Dick or Megan can scat, West’s lame effort clearly contravenes any such notion. I had to listen twice to make sure it was as bad as I first thought. It was. But West is a pretty good drummer, and her swingin’ big band swings as hard as it can and as often as the music allows (there’s only so much any band can do to spruce up the likes of “Adios,” “Moonlight Serenade,” “It’s a Blue World,” “Sleepy Lagoon” and “Song of India”). The album warrants a passing grade, but not by much — and only for those who treasure the Swing Era and can’t soak up enough of its music. West’s ensemble is probably better when seen as well as heard. As noted at her web site, the band in concert “is a sight to behold, with the swinging of horns, the waving of the derby hats (mutes), the vocals and impressions of Megan West, the enthusiasm of the young, talented musicians and the unbelievable drumming of its ‘girl’ leader.” Unluckily for the band, such entertaining visual aids are of no use on an album. That’s a shame; they could have used the help.
Contact:Megan West Big Band, PMB #174, 1717 E. Vista Chino Road, Suite 7, Palm Springs, CA 92262.
Track Listing: Theme
Personnel: Megan West, drums, vocals; Danny House, Albert Alva, alto sax, clarinet; Jeff Driskill, Mark Visher, tenor sax, clarinet; Jim Youngstom, baritone sax, clarinet; Stan Watkins, Kye Palmer, Don Clark, trumpet; Bruce Otto, Jim Boltinghouse, Ron Dickinson, trombone; Quinn Johnson, piano; Bill Saitta, bass. Guest artist