Betty and I returned to Albuquerque on Memorial Day after attending Swingin' on a Riff, the latest in a series of marvelous semi-annual events presented by Ken Poston and the Los Angeles Jazz Institute for more than twenty years at venues in and around L.A. This one was held May 23-26 at the Los Angeles Marriott Airport Hotel. The music ranged from very good to spectacular, with seventeen world-class concerts by some of the finest ensembles and musicians you're likely to hear anywhere, exemplifying its secondary title, "Big Band Masters of the 21st Century." The concerts were supplemented by four films, four panel discussions and the usual pleasures of seeing old friends and greeting new ones. There was one troubling aspect, one that left me with mixed emotions, but we'll deal with that in greater detail after completing the business at hand, which is to summarize as best we can what took place in the Marriott's Marquis Ballroom and Meridian Room starting Thursday morning and continuing through Sunday evening. In the words of Oscar Hammerstein II, "let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start . . ."
Thursday, May 23
As some readers may know, Swingin' on a Riff was devoted almost exclusively to larger ensembles past, present and, in some cases, future. We arrived in Los Angeles early Wednesday afternoon and were able to sleep late Thursday morning, as Poston's "bonus" event the day before involved a long bus trip to and from Las Vegas and nothing was scheduled until 11 a.m., at which time the Fullerton College Big Band was called upon to open the program. They came well-prepared and ready to roar, even though director Bruce Babad was delayed by a fender-bender and arrived after the first three numbers had been played. The first two were vocals ("Fly Me to the Moon," "Day In, Day Out"), nicely sung by Greg Fletcher, preceding "Senator Sam" and a feature for bass trombonist Cody Kleinhaus whose title I couldn't hear. With Babad now on the scene, Fletcher sang the Cab Calloway
before addressing Don Schamber's fast-moving "Due and Playable" (a.k.a. "Cherokee"). In keeping with Sunday morning's theme, "The Birth of the Cool," one of the soloists on "Playable" was Fullerton trumpeter Miles Davis (I'm not making that up). That would have been an ideal closing number, but the band chose instead to ring down the curtain with David Letterman Show trumpeter Mark Pender's "I Like It," six minutes of tedious funk that I didn't (like, that is). Other soloists of note were alto Will Jackson, tenor Roman Brambila and, especially, pianist Robert Perez.
David Angel, a name new to me, was up next, leading an excellent band through a genial program that opened with Duke Ellington
's "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" and several originals, namely "Out on the Coast," "Rangoon Express," "Vafo," "Wild Stawberries" and "All Right," the last a blues that started quietly and built to a tumultuous climax in which I distinctly heard the sound of trains colliding. Alto Gene Cipriano
on the lovely "Strawberries." The fast-moving "Vafo" was a highlight, with crisp solos by Koonse, tenor Phil Feather, trumpeter Jack Coan and baritone Bob Carr. A handsome, well-played session that led to the first of four panel discussions (one each day), all of whose themes were the same: "Jazz Composers' Workshop." This one, moderated by Larry Hathaway, had as its panelists Mike Barone
and others who helped bring swing music to Los Angeles in the '30s and even earlier. Afterward, it was back to the Ballroom for one of the week's unequivocal highlights: a stellar performance by arranger par excellence Mike Barone and his band (for which the auditorium was roughly one-quarter filled; more about that later). The opener, Barone's dazzling arrangement of the traditional hymn "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" was followed by a lustrous version of the standard "I'm Confessin,'" the up-tempo "Sour Sally" (more widely known as "Sweet Georgia Brown"), Rimsky-Korsakov's title selection from Barone's album "Flight of the Bumble Bee," and a beguiling take on Victor Herbert's "Indian Summer." After another album theme, Joe Zawinul
's "Birdland," Barone reached deep into his treasure trove of early standards (as he is wont to do) and unearthed another winner, "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone," after which the band closed with Barone's rapid-fire version of "Limehouse Blues" entitled "Limes Away." No big names in the band, but you'd never know it when listening to razor-sharp solos by saxophonists Vince Trombetta
As good fortune would have it, supper followed, so there was a two-hour break before Roger Neumann's Rather Large Band arrived onstage to perform not one but two rather large and impressive sets. Neumann couldn't have chosen a more agreeable opener than the breezy standard "Let's Fall in Love," wonderfully played with solos to match by pianist Geoff Stradling
's trombone, Coan's trumpet and Peterson's tenor. Coan, who it's said is an octogenarian (that's hard to believe) had center stage to himself, playing and scatting on the aptly named "Jack Coan's Blues," which preceded the laid-back "Easy Chair" (sounded a lot like "Old Folks") and the lovely "I'll Be Home" (solos by Summers on "Chair," Neumann [tenor] and flugel Mark Lewis
's "Good Bait" and three more vocals by Vergari ("That Old Black Magic," "The Shadow of Your Smile," backed by Neumann's tenor, and an Ellington medley) before the band rang down the curtain with the crowd-pleasing "Stop Those Blues," played at warp speed and testing soloists Stradling, trumpeter Summers, tenor Peterson, trombonist Kaplan and bassist Kirk Smith
's breathtaking arrangement of "Young and Foolish" (kudos to pianist Kiefer Shackleford and lead trumpet Forrest Powell), Bill Russo's Cuban favorite "23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West," and the standard "April in Paris," played Basie-style, complete with "one more time!" The band was well- rehearsed, the soloists above average. A genial prelude to lunch.
The afternoon session opened on a bright note with a set by trumpeter Steve Huffsteter
's band that could best be described as tasteful. Huffsteter's charts (he wrote all of them) were exemplary, and the ensemble played them with alacrity, opening with "Diz Section" (sparkling solos by guitarist Tom Rizzo, flutist Kim Richmond
, trombone), the flag-waving "Joint Tenancy" (a.k.a. "Alone Together," a heated two-trumpet shoot-out between Huffsteter and Mark Lewis) and "A Waltz and Battery," showcasing Webb, trombonist Whitfield and bassist Chris Conner
. While there was no doubt that Urwin's ensemble, which is set to record its fourth album later this summer, would be first-class, he made absolutely certain by enlisting the services of a couple of well-known heavyweights, tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb
's "Joy Spring," while Charlie Davis stepped out of his usual lead trumpet chair to solo on "Beauty and the Beast." Watrous shared center stage on the next four numbers, soloing alone on "A Beautiful Friendship," with Saunders and Christlieb on Bill Evans
, "Dear Mr. Florence," before the orchestra closed the bracing session with Bird's "Shaw Nuff," featuring Watrous, Christlieb, Saunders and Bunnell. One had a hunch that many of those in the sparse but enthusiastic audience might have happily delayed their supper to hear more.
Supper prevailed, however, after which New Zealand-born pianist Alan Broadbent, who has been busy composing and arranging for various groups and accompanying singers almost from the day he left the Woody Herman
band in the early '70s, expressed his happiness to be part of a big band again, and set about proving it with a series of captivating charts that spanned two sets and consumed more than two hours. Broadbent took the first solo on his composition "Between the Lines" (based on "All the Things You Are"), with other discourses by trombonist Whitfield, baritone John Mitchell and alto Glen Berger, and was out front again on "Swee'pea," written for Billy Strayhorn
. Bruce Babad's soprano sax shimmered on "Love in Silent Amber" (written for the Herman band), as did Doug Webb's tenor on "The Long White Cloud." Babad and Carl Saunders shared solo honors on the Latin-style "Chris Craft," Broadbent and tenor Jerry Pinter on the well-grooved "Woody and Me," which ended the first set.
Broadbent opened Set 2 with his striking arrangement of "America the Beautiful" (as you've never heard it before), with Pinter and Saunders providing the solo voices. Broadbent and bassist Putter Smith
, but the audience clamored for an encore, and Broadbent obliged with another of his admirable compositions, "Journey Home," enhanced by his lithe piano, Saunders' always meteoric trumpet and Webb's muscular tenor. A lovely way to end an evening.
Saturday, May 25
Saturday morning began, as Friday had, with a film, this one "Jazz West Coast: The Big Bands and Arrangers," surveying bandleaders and arrangers from Shorty Rogers, Stan Kenton, Johnny Richards
and Bobby Darin. As the film wasn't shown until 11 a.m., a lunch break preceded the day's opening concert, by Chicagoan Lou Rovner's Small Big Band (a tentet with six front-liners and a four-member rhythm section). I doubt that anyone was prepared for what Rovner and his group had to offer, which should be filed under "pleasant surprises." While the songs may have been familiar, Rovner's quirky arrangements clearly were not. Rovner not only takes liberties with melodies and harmonies, he sometimes turns them upside down and inside out, as for example on "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" or "Paper Moon," neither of which was easily recognizable but was nonetheless captivating. Rovner opened with Mel Torme
and baritone Jay Mason. The tongue-in-cheek "Ball Game" and whimsical "Paper Moon" (which Betty thought was overly long) were followed by the standard "Like Someone in Love," played in the style of Neal Hefti's "Li'l Darlin,'" with a chorus of "Blues in the Night" thrown in for good measure. The band closed with a relatively plain-spoken reading of Miles Davis
and tenor Doug Webb on Kubis's clever "High Clouds and a Good Chance of Wayne," the always amazing Andy Martin on the standard "Alone Together," alto saxophonist Sal Lozano on the frisky "Some of These Days" (on which the trumpets doubled as banjos!), Kubis's friend and longtime guitarist Mike Higgins on Antonio Carlos Jobim
's gentle samba, "Triste." Kubis wrapped the package with his high-stepping arrangement of the trad favorite "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home," whose exuberant rhythms enfolded animated solos by everyone in the trombone section. Kubis played not a single number from his latest CD, Live and Unleashed!, and (to his credit) never made a fuss over its release (Crab Apple Records 130301). High marks to drummer Ray Brinker
who enlivened the band with his power and enthusiasm. An appetizing prelude to supper.
The Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra, directed by Mathieu, kicked off the evening session with an engaging hour-plus of music mostly written and / or arranged by Bill Russo while he was plying his trade as a trombonist in the Stan Kenton Orchestra (later, he was widely known as Prof. William Russo, director of the Center for New Music at Chicago's Columbia College and composer of music for symphonies and the theatre as well as several operas). With one exception ("Dusk," a third-stream piece), the songs chosen by Mathieu were of the straight-ahead variety including Russo's compositions for trombonist Frank Rosolino
. Also heard were "I've Got You Under My Skin" (King, Selden), "Fascinating Rhythm" (Charlie Morillas, trombone, Roger Neumann, tenor sax. Bruce Babad, alto, Doug Webb, tenor), "Sophisticated Lady" (Babad, trumpeter Stan Martin); "You and the Night and the Music" (Babad, bassist Dave Stone
); "Shadow Waltz"(McMullen) and "Silhouette," a song written by Mathieu as his "audition piece" for the Kenton Orchestra, featuring Summers' muted trumpet. The session closed, as it should have, with Russo's most widely known composition, "23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West," admirably played with ripping solos by Babad and trombonist Erik Hughes.
Saturday evening's final concert, by the Holman band, was a real head-scratcher. On the one hand, the ensemble was keen and ready, as one would expect from a band that rehearses regularly; no fault could be found with the soloists, and the charts bore the conspicuous Holman imprint. On the other hand, only one selection on the program was new (at least to me); the rest of what was played had been heard before, much of it under similar circumstances, and indeed half of the eight numbers (including the encore, "Bemsha Swing") were recorded at earlier LAJI events, for the albums The Bill Holman Band Live ("Woodrow," "Zoot 'n Al") and Hommage ("Zamboni," "Bemsha Swing"). The only number fresh to these ears was "Sweet Spot," a tasteful ballad showcasing the awesome Carl Saunders on trumpet and Doug Webb on soprano sax. Holman reached back to 1954 for "Lover Man," written as a feature for Lee Konitz with the Stan Kenton Orchestra; to 1988 for "St. Thomas" (from the album World Class Music) and to 1995 for "No Joy in Mudville" (from the album A View from the Side, both on JVC). So what to make of it? Well, if you didn't mind hearing these songs again, you probably had a most enjoyable time. As noted, the band was first-rate, and there were laudable solos by Saunders, Webb, alto Bruce Babad (sitting in for Konitz on "Lover Man"), trumpeters Ron Stout and Bob Summers, alto Billy Kerr, tenor Rickey Woodard
and the vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, among others, was followed by the weekend's centerpiece, a brunch and three concerts in the Marquis Ballroom, which had been rearranged so that those who sprang for food were seated at tables in front of the bandstand, others in more conventional seats behind a railing. The combination of music and food drew what was probably the week's largest audience (although the bar had been set rather low). The first of the concerts, "The Real Birth of the Cool: The Music of Claude Thornhill
's "Godchild." Evans arranged "Robbins' Nest," "Anthropology" and Thornhill's theme, "Snowfall." The over-all impression was one of amazement at how well these charts have stood the test of time. The band was remarkably tidy, while the soloists comprised the usual suspects plus alto Ann Patterson, baritone Bob Efford, pianist Rich Eames
who sounds nothing like Miles (insert sadness or applause here), playing songs from the "Birth of the Cool" album in the order in which they were recorded (and reprising the original solos note- for-note). While that may seem to be easy, it really isn't, and Findley and his mates deserve high marks for making the effort. The band rested between numbers by swapping "Miles Davis stories," most of which were too indelicate to repeat here. All, however, were humorous in their own way. Two numbers from the Thornhill book, "Jeru" and "Godchild," reappeared here, alongside such paragons as "Move," "Venus de Milo," "Budo," "Israel," "Deception" and "Boplicity." The nonet received a well- deserved standing ovation.
Concert No. 3, I must confess, left me cold, even though it featured one of my favorite trumpeters, the incomparable Bobby Shew
. This was "Miles Ahead: The Classic Miles Davis + 19 Collaboration with Gil Evans." Classic or not, I've never been a fan of the album or the arrangements. The tunes were played without respite, as on the album, starting with the first five: "Springsville," "The Maids of Cadiz," "The Duke," "My Ship" and "Miles Ahead." After pausing momentarily to turn the album over (figuratively speaking) and reset the needle, Shew continued with "Blues for Pablo," "New Rhumba," "The Meaning of the Blues," "Lament" and "I Don't Want to Be Kissed (By Anyone but You)." Shew and the seventeen-piece ensemble that accompanied him were directed by Matt Harris
. Everyone seemed pleased by the performance; I was bored, as I was when I heard the original recording, even though Shew was a more than commendable replacement for Miles. To each his own, I suppose. As Ellington said, "It don't mean a thing . . ."
After brunch, many of those in the audience adjourned to the Meridian Room for the fourth and final panel discussion, moderated by Helen Borgers with panelists Kim Richmond and Chris Walden. A third panelist, Bob Curnow, who was to lead his L.A. Big Band Reunion in the week's endmost concert, was unable to be there owing to back surgery. In Curnow's absence, Shew stepped in to lead the ensemble, which performed arrangements by Curnow, mostly of the music of Pat Metheny
. There was yet one more concert before the supper break, by Richmond's Concert Jazz Orchestra, performing nine of the dozen selections on their recent CD, Artistry, a tribute to Stan Kenton, in whose orchestra Richmond played in 1967. Among them were Richmond's contemporary versions of Kenton's theme, "Artistry in Rhythm," as well as the venerable "Intermission Riff" and "Peanut Vendor." Richmond wrote "Anchor of Hope" and "Poetry" with Kenton in mind. Completing the program were Neal Hefti's "Virna," the standards "Invitation" and "Over the Rainbow," and one song from a movie: Allie Wrubel / Ray Gilbert's "Zip-a-Dee-Doo- Dah" (from the 1946 Disney film Song of the South). Richmond calls his version "Zippidy Altered," and for good reason, as the original melody has been recast and twisted out of shape. Too bad, as that happens to be one of my personal favorite songs. It sounds okay on the album, not so much in concert. Solos, however, were splendid throughout, especially guitarist Tom Hynes
on "Over the Rainbow" and Richmond (alto) on "Invitation." "Poetry," which closes the album, was placed third here, with "Anchor of Hope" the finale. A respectable live performance, but to hear the orchestra at its best, track down the CD.
By now the light at the end of the tunnel was shining brightly, as Bobby Shew led the L.A. Big Band Reunion onstage for the week's final concert. After apologizing for Curnow's absence and assuring everyone that he wanted to be present to lead the band but was barred by his doctors, Shew opened the set in the best way possible, with Curnow's wonderful arrangement of Metheny's "It's Just Talk," featuring trombonist Dave Woodley. Bob Sheppard
's soprano glistened on "James," and he was heard again on alto (with trumpeter Ron Stout and trombonist Alan Kaplan) on "Chet's Call," which Shew said was "the only bebop song" in Curnow's library. Three more charming tunes ("Wherever You Go," "Stranger in Town," "Every Summer Night") followed, the last spotlighting guitarist Tim May
and Stout, before Shew reached for his flugelhorn to enhance Metheny's loveliest melody, "Always and Forever," written for his parents. Jerry Pinter's smooth tenor was featured on "See the World," Sheppard's alto and Stout's trumpet on "Afternoon." Stout stepped up to solo one last time on the rhythmic finale, "Minuano." With that, the four days had come to a close, and if any of those who came were less than happy they must be extremely hard to please.
This leads us to the blip on the radar screen alluded to earlier, one that has been growing (or, more accurately, shrinking) for the past several years. That would be attendance, which seemed (to me) to have reached an all-time low at Swingin' on a Riff. Even though Poston has already planned another event in October (see below), it led me to wonder how many more he can possibly afford to sponsor. To draw a picture, there was a time when I could barely elbow and shove my way through crowded hallways at a Poston event and had to scramble to find a seat, even in my favored back row. Not this time. The hallway outside the Marquis Ballroom was for the most part eerily hushed and sparsely populated, and I probably could have found a seat in or near the front row if that's what I'd wanted. Let's be honest; when bands led by Holman, Kubis, Barone, Broadbent, Neumann, Urwin and Richmond, showcasing musicians of the caliber of Shew, Christlieb, Watrous, Bergeron, Saunders, Andy Martin and many others can't lure at least two hundred people into a ballroom that seats 650, it's a sure sign that dark clouds are on the horizon. Holman's Saturday evening concert, and the Sunday evening performance by Curnow's L.A. Reunion Big Band, conducted by Shew, were perhaps the best attended (not counting the Sunday brunch, which included three concerts). Neither one, however, drew an audience of more than two hundredand even that may be a generous estimate.
Granted, this is probably not something readers especially want to hear about a jazz event, but it's hard to brush aside the facts when they are staring you in the face. Before continuing, I should hasten to point out that these observations are in no way meant to cast aspersions on Ken Poston, for whom I have the greatest respect and who deserves all the applause we can give him for planning and carrying out these impressive events for so many years. There is no denying, however, the slow but steady decline in attendance at these twice-yearly LAJI events over the past few years. The question thus becomes, what has caused it? The answer isn't easy to grasp, as several diverse factors are in play. The sluggish economy is no doubt one of them but by no means the only one. Perhaps some of those who attended in the past simply decided not to return, their desire to see live jazz waning as costs for airfares, hotel stays, food and other amenities kept rising. Some others who used to show up on a fairly regular basis no longer attend becausenot to put too fine a point on itthey are deceased. And, sad to report, they are not being replaced by the younger generation. At Swingin' on a Riff you could count on the fingers of one hand (or at least two) the number of "younger" people (say, age thirty or below) in the audience. The college bands (usually four, this year two) showed up, unpacked their gear, performed, re-packed and headed back to school, passing up a chance to see and hear seasoned professionals from whom one may assume they could have learned a thing or two. Unlike paying customers, students can hang around and listen for free should they choose to. In most cases, they choose not to.
While I've not spoken to Poston about financial matters, I find it hard to believe he could be breaking even, let alone making money from these semi-annual get-togethers. But even if he has managed to keep his head above water, should the current downward trend continue it won't be long before he can't. Maybe he has an answer, something that would reverse course and keep these jazz conclaves, which seem outwardly to be on life support, alive and well for years to come. I know I don't. The bottom line is, more people have to become aware of these singular events and decide to attend; if that doesn't happen, the future looks bleak.
On the Horizon . . .
And on that happy note, a few words about the next Poston / LAJI event, Jazz Themes from Hollywood: A Celebration of Jazz at the Movies, to be held October 24-27 at the Marriott LAX Hotel. Themes that have been lined up so far are "L.A. Confidential: An Evening of Jazz Film Noir," "A Tribute to Johnny Mandel," "Dreamsville: An All-Star Tribute to Henry Mancini
's music from the films Barefoot Adventure and Slippery When Wet), "The Fast and the Furious" (Shorty Rogers' music from The Wild One, The James Dean Story and Hot Rod Rumble), "Jazz and Kerosene," "Blues in the Night: The Songs of Johnny Mercer," "Great Songs from Lousy Movies," "The Swing's to TV: Jazz Themes from the Small Screen," "Va-Va-Voom!" (Jazz interpretations by Barney Kessel
and Greg Caputo are set to headline the second Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend, July 25-28 in Lee, MA. Caputo will lead a sixteen-piece big band with guest soloist Woods, an NEA Jazz Master and multiple Grammy Award winner who returns to the Berkshires after appearances at the Pittsfield City (MA) Jazz Festival in 2006 and 2011. In addition to the headline performances, the weekend will include "Jazz About Town," a new component featuring local performers in outdoor settings. More events will be announced as the festival nears. For information, go online to www.berkshiresjazz.org
Another Feather in Jazzed Media's Cap
Jazzed Media's documentary film Blue Flame: Portrait of a Jazz Legend, which surveys the life and career of bandleader Woody Herman, has received a 2013 Hermes Creative AwardGold in the documentary film category. This is the eleventh film award for Graham Carter, owner of Jazzed Media in Denver, CO.
And Last But Not Least . . .
Fifteen years ago, during a phone conversation with Mike Ricci, overseer of a fairly new web site named All About Jazz, I asked if he was in need of any reviewers. "We could use someone to review big bands," he replied. And that is how Big Band Report (and Big Band Caravan) came into being. I've had a marvelous time writing these columns, and especially befriending musicians, many of whom I've never met in person and know only through their superlative big-band recordings, about which I've had the great privilege of sharing a few words of appraisal and support. But all good things must end, and while it pains me to say so, this is the last column I'll be writing for AAJ. Lest it be misread, however, that I am "retiring" (at age seventy-eight), that is definitely not the case. I'm in good health, and plan to continue reviewing big-band (and other) CDs as long as I am able. So to those who have recorded, are recording or plan to record, the message is: keep those albums coming, and I'll do what I can to share their message with others. It has been a pleasure, friends, and now we'll close as we always do, with one last reminder to keep swingin'!
Recent Big Band Releases
Phil Woods / DePaul University Jazz Ensemble Right to Swing Jazzed Media 2013
There must be something about DePaul University that Phil Woods finds especially irresistible, as the celebrated alto saxophonist returned to the Chicago campus in November 2011 to record his fourth album in less than seven years with director Bob Lark's intrepid jazz ensemble. Actually, that's not altogether precise, as only the second half of the session encompasses the full ensemble; the five-movement Rights of Swing, first recorded by Woods' octet in 1961, opens the album and is performed by a tentet comprised of members of the larger band with Woods as quarterback and principal soloist.
Besides composing and arranging Rights of Swing, Woods wrote every other number on the album and arranged "Hank Jones
" and "Blues for Lopes." The other charts are by Carl Kennedy ("Weak End"), Paul Dietrich ("Pairing Off") and Cormac McCarthy ("Casanova"). The opening suite, extensively updated since its debut more than half a century ago, is sharp and well-drawn, especially so considering the fact that students are sitting in for the likes of Tommy Flanagan
. There's nary a bump in the road, and Woods isn't the only soloist who earns plaudits. Trumpeter Dave Kaiser is impressive on the second movement, "Ballad," while elsewhere, saxophonists Brent Griffin, Sean Packard and Mark Hiebert, pianist Pete Benson, trombonist Andy Baker and vibraphonist David Bugher more than hold their own. The rhythm second (Baker, Bugher, bassist Matt Ulery, drummer Keith Brooks) is solid from end to end.
"Weak End" sets the second half of the album on a course that is far more powerful than weak, as is Chuck Parrish's lead trumpet, not to mention bracing solos by Woods and Kaiser. Although the pace slows on "Hank Jones," the ambience is no less emphatic, nor are the spellbinding statements by Woods and Benson. Dietrich not only arranged the up-tempo "Pairing Off" but solos nicely to complement another well-aimed broadside by Woods. "Casanova" is an even-tempered bossa nova whose unhurried solos are by Woods and Bugher, after which "Blues for Lopes" rings down the curtain with a hard-swinging anthem that makes room for buoyant solos by Woods, baritone Adam Turman, trumpeter Kazumasa Terashima, trombonist Alex Wasily, altos Griffin and Hiebert, bassist Ulery and drummer Brooks.
The DePaul ensemble is splendid, as always, and no one would guess that Woods had marked his eightieth birthday only one week before the album was recorded. Let us hope that the invitation to return to DePaul remains open, and that Woods is able to perform and record with these well-schooled undergrads for many years to come.
Beautiful music, marvelously performed and superbly recorded. Shouldn't that be enough? Perhaps so. Clearly, composer / arranger Steve Owen, director of the Jazz Studies program at the University of Oregon, had a definite game plan in mind as he envisioned his debut album, Stand Up Eight, subtitled "Music for Large Jazz Ensemble." The finished product encompasses seven of Owen's sophisticated compositions, one by Cole Porter ("Everything I Love") and another ("Kid A") by the group Radiohead, all of which were arranged by Owen. Several of the pieces were commissioned for other bands or events, which is indicative of Owen's standing among his peers.
While most of Owen's thematic devices adhere closely to well-worn paths, the tempestuous "State of the Union" may best be described as an experiment in sound whose acceptance rests in large measure on the equanimity of the individual listener. According to Owen, the song represents his attempt to "give a voice to the frustrations of the average, intelligent person striving to be heard over the din of @#$%^ parading as news and by a public unwilling to face reality." To do so, he employs the device of an off-stage supervisor whose pleas into a muted microphone go unheeded, overridden by the mandate of an orchestra with other goals to achieve. The end result is rather reminiscent of Ken Nordine
The album's cryptic title is taken from its opening number, "Fall Down Seven, Stand Up Eight," an ode to perseverance in the face of adversity written for Owen's children (he doesn't say how many but there are more than one). It's a progressive, minor-key narrative that serves as a showcase for the splendid tenor saxophonist Don Aliquo
have their say on the West African-influenced "One Voice." Owen's arrangement of "Everything I Love" is uncommon, to say the least, its shapely melody cleverly veiled beneath the trappings of "a dance scene from an old Hollywood musical" complete with tap routine (reproduced here by drummer Jim White
then wraps things up with Owen's heartfelt anthem, "Following in Your Footsteps," wrtten for his father, Charles Owen.
Big bands, it should be noted, have come a long way since Basie, Ellington, Herman, Kenton and their peers were riding high. Stand Up Eight provides a credible glimpse into the mindset of today's big bands and the ways in which they are likely to evolve in years to come. Not everyone will appreciate the new template, nor should they. Those who do, however, may find the passage quite invigorating and pleasurable.
Bernt Rosengren Big Band With Horace Parlan / Doug Raney Caprice 2013
As a bandleader, Swedish saxophonist Bernt Rosengren
, and nowhere is that more apparent than on "Hip Walk," the opening number on this tasteful album whose freshness and well-defined sound belie the fact that it was recorded more than two decades ago, in 1980, five years after the band was formed. Rosengren solos on "Hip Walk" with his American guests, pianist Horace Parlan
, who are heard from on most of the nine tracks, seven of which were composed (and all arranged) by Rosengren.
On tenor, Rosengren really hits his stride on track 4, "The Humming Bees," adding strong solos on alto ("New Life," "Sad Waltz," "How Deep Is the Ocean?") and flute ("Joe and Eye"). Irving Berlin's "Ocean" is one of two songs not written by Rosengren; the other is John Coltrane
's "Naima," another showcase for Rosengren's muscular tenor. Aside from Parlan, Raney and the leader, there is only one other solo, by trumpeter Lars Farnlof (muted) on Rosengren's "New Life." Saxophone great Lars Gullin
For those who may be unfamiliar with Rosengren, he has been a pillar of the Swedish jazz scene for more than half a century, having played and recorded with almost every fellow countryman of note as well as American standouts such as Parlan, Raney, Don Cherry
and others. While some of those names exemplify Rosengren's later forays into more experimental music, there is none of that hereeverything is straight-ahead and swinging in the most admirable big-band tradition. In fact, several of Rosengren's compositions are so fresh and charming they could easily be envisioned as jazz standards. If there's a downside it lies in the LP-length forty-three-minute playing time, as the album was recorded a couple years before the advent of the compact disc. On the other hand, none of the forty-three minutes is wasted time, as Rosengren, the band and their invited guests sparkle from start to finish.
The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! This time, however, they arrive bearing "explosives" of a more salutary nature, the kind launched enthusiastically by St. Petersburg's dynamic three-year-old Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra on its splendid debut album, Letter to a Friend. It matters not where these Russians have been; it's simply wonderful to have them here, even if only on a recording. And while the name of guest saxophonist Igor Butman
(who resides in St. Petersburg) will be the only one familiar to listeners in the U.S., that matters not either, as every chair and music stand in the orchestra should have the label "world-class" stamped across it.
That applies especially to co-leader / baritone saxophonist Serge Bogdanov
who drafted the incandescent charts (all of them) and solos adroitly (with a touch of Mulligan) on "Letter to a Friend" and "September Boy." That the Russians have been listening closely to their American (and European and Asian) counterparts is undeniable, as ensemble passages are sharp and swinging throughout, the solos comparable to those heard in any big band from coast to coast and around the world. In fact, hearing the JPO for the first time is akin to panning for gold and suddenly unearthing a precious nugget. These gentlemen (and one lady, alto saxophonist Maria Art) even take Franz Gruber's timeworn hymn, "Silent Night," and transform it into big- band riches. What is most difficult to grasp is that these well-schooled musicians range in age from twenty-five to thirty!
Seven of the album's ten songs were written by Russians (four by the band's long-time mentor, Gennady Golshtein), the others by Gruber, Duke Ellington
("You Made a Good Move"). Alexander Berenson composed the shuffling opener, "Desiderata" (which sounds nothing like the "Desiderata" I've heard before), whose agile soloists are Butman (tenor) and flugel Aleksey Dimitriev. Golshtein wrote the next four numbers "Theme for Tima," "Letter to a Friend," "Sleeping Ships," "In the Westside"and they are as admirable as any big-band charts you're likely to hear anywhere. Alto saxophonist Kirill Bubyakin solos with Bogdanov on "Letter," while pianist Andrey Zimovets is showcased on the seductive "Ships." The bop-inspired "Tima" encompasses bright solos by Zimovets, guest flugel David Goloschekin, tenor Juriy Bogatirev and drummer Egor Krukovskih; Zimovets, Bubyakin and Goloschekin share blowing space on the bright, fast-paced "Westside" (which sounds, as does "Letter to a Friend," not far removed from something Ernie Wilkins
Goloschekin switches to vibes, Butman to soprano on Vasily Solovyov-Sedov's graceful "Evening Song," which precedes "Love You Madly" (played at an agreeable medium tempo with trim solos by Bubyakin and bassist Nick Zatolochniy) and Ruslan Khain's easygoing "September Boy" (Bogdanov, baritone; Konstantin Semenov, trombone). "Silent Night" is next up, followed by the loping finale, "Good Move," whose sharp solo moves are made by Butman (tenor) and trombonist Alex Kozlov. The Russians are indeed here, and it's a pleasure to welcome them, especially as Letter to a Friend is not only one of the more entertaining big-band albums of the year but one of the best-packaged as well, its solid hard-back cover enclosing splendid liner notes (in Russian and English) by Vladimir Feyertag along with play lists, photos and personnel. Here's an earnest round of applause for one Letter that is well worth reading.
's peerless Boss Brass and more recently led his own big band way out west in Victoria, BC, had a notion to abandon temporarily the hustle and bustle of bop and post-bop jazz by producing an all-ballad album for trombone and strings, which is precisely what he has done with Everything Happens to Me, a fond look back at some notable evergreens from the Great American Songbook circa 1926-1961.
There are no brass or reeds here, only strings, rhythm and McDougall's burnished trombone brightening eight charts by Boss Brass alum Rick Wilkins and half a dozen more by McDougall himself. All of the songs, from the earliest ("Someone to Watch Over Me") to the most recent ("Moon River") should be familiar to anyone with even a passing awareness of popular music. There is almost no improvisation, as McDougall abides close to the melody throughout, embellishing the strings with his lyrical manifestos. The package is aimed explicitly toward those who are in the mood for resplendent music for listening or dancing. As such, it works unconditionally.
McDougall says he has wanted to record an album of ballads for more than a decade, adding in the liner notes that "for those of you with hair the same color as mine (white!), I have a feeling that this music will bring back fond memories." That's true, and there aren't many trombonists who could play the music with more warmth and elegance than McDougall.
who recalls that "their music transcended craft; it felt like an adventure into unknown territory, even after a dozen hearings."
Bradfield never lost his admiration for Liston, and now, several decades onward, he has written a six-movement suite in her honor, commissioned by Chamber Music America and recorded by Bradfield's Chicago-based septet with vocalist Maggie Burrell added on the last number, "Let Me Not Lose My Dream," based on a text by the Harlem Renaissance poet Georgia Douglas Johnson. After opening with "Kansas City Child," a salute to Liston's home town, the suite moves to "Central Avenue" to depict the vibrant jazz scene in 1940s Los Angeles, renews Liston's kinship with "Dizzy Gillespie" and "Randy Weston," appraises her time as an arranger for Stax and Motown Records and in Jamaica writing and teaching for film and musicians on the reggae scene with "Detroit / Kingston," and applauds her triumphant return to the States ("Homecoming") to introduce her all-female big band at the Kansas City Jazz Festival in 1979. Sandwiched between "Weston" and "Detroit / Kingston" is Bradfield's three-minute "Solo Saxophone Introduction," about which he offers no commentary.
If creating diversity within a jazz context while underscoring Liston's perspective was Bradfield's aim, he has succeeded. Having done his homework studying Liston's scores at Columbia College's Center for Black Music, Bradfield has used that knowledge to fashion a suite that presents a vibrant picture of Liston's musical heritage against a backdrop of the times in which she lived. He makes good use of ensemble and soloists alike, showcasing trombonist Joel Adams on "Kansas City Child," trumpeter Victor Garcia
on "Detroit / Kingston," and his own tenor sax on "Solo Saxophone Introduction." Melba was clearly a labor of love for Bradfield, an emotion that is communicated throughout by the leader and his talented ensemble.
Bruce Lofgren and Doug Livingston Southwest Portals Night Bird 2013
Southwest Portals is a series of even-tempered tone poems composed and arranged for his quartet by guitarist Bruce Lofgren. While the framework is more or less linked to jazz (there is some improvisation), the over-all vibe is more folk / western swing than bop or blues, thanks in part to Doug Livingston's steel pedal guitar, which evokes a cinematic "Sons of the Pioneers" mood. Even so, the songs are quite pleasant, the musicianship first-class. The presence of two guitars isn't superfluous, as they sound almost nothing alike, and Lofgren and Livingston are responsive musicians who play their roles with a minimum of fanfare, as do their colleagues, bassist Mike Flick
This is for the most part music that would be right at home on a ranch or at a country music soiree. As Ed Leimbacher writes in the liner notes, "Prop your footwear up on the porch railing, check your unwelcome baggage on the event horizon, catch hold of that road-tested rain mirage, and drift through this Portal of Southwest Dreams towhatever you hear." What you will hear and appreciate are eight tasteful themes by Lofgren and another "co-written" by J.S. Bach ("Prairie Fugue"), admirably performed by the quartet.
Even though the music lingers on the outskirts of jazz, Lofgren and his mates are no doubt doing what pleases them. And while it may please many others who choose to traverse that path, die-hard jazz fans should look elsewhere.
Tracks and Personnel
Right to Swing
Tracks: Rights of Swing: Prelude / Ballad / African Violets / Scherzo / Finale; Weak End; Hank Jones; Pairing Off; Casanova; Blues for Lopes.
Personnel: Bob Lark: director; Phil Woods: alto sax; Chuck Parrish: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tom Klein: trumpet, flugelhorn; *David Kaiser: trumpet, flugelhorn; Paul Dietrich: trumpet, flugelhorn; Kazumasa Terashima: trumpet, flugelhorn; *Mark Hiebert: alto, soprano, baritone sax, clarinet; *Brent Griffin: alto, soprano sax, flute; *Sean Packard: tenor sax, clarinet; Michael Plankey: tenor sax, clarinet; Adam Turman: baritone sax, bass clarinet; *Andy Baker: trombone; Kody Glazer: trombone; Alex Walsh: trombone; Bryan Tipps: bass trombone; *David Bugher: vibraphone; Kevin Brown: guitar; *Pete Benson: piano; *Matt Ulery: bass; *Keith Brooks: drums; Juan Pastor: percussion. (*Denotes member of the Phil Woods Ensemble at DePaul University.)
Stand Up Eight
Tracks: Fall Down Seven, Stand Up Eight; As of Now; A Delicate Balance; Still; One Voice; Everything I Love; State of the Union; Kid A; Following in Your Footsteps.
Personnel: Steve Owen: composer, arranger; Dan Gailey: conductor; John Davis: trumpet, flugelhorn; John Adler: trumpet, flugelhorn; Clay Jenkins: trumpet, flugelhorn; Brian McWhorter: trumpet, flugelhorn; Todd DelGuidice: alto, soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet; John Gunther: alto, soprano sax, flute; Don Aliquo: tenor sax, flute; Peter Sommer: tenor sax, clarinet; Wil Swindler: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Nat Wickham: trombone; Paul McKee: trombone; Dave Glenn: trombone; Gary Mayne: bass trombone, tuba; Steve Kolvalcheck: guitar; Dana Landry: piano; Erik Applegate: bass; Jim White: drums, percussion; Brad Dutz: percussion, marimbas.
With Horace Parlan / Doug Raney
Tracks: Hip Walk; New Life; How Deep Is the Ocean; Joe and Eye; The Humming Bees; Naima; Autumn Song; Sad Waltz; Blues Nerves.
Personnel: Bernt Rosengren: leader, composer, arranger, alto, tenor sax, flute; Bertil Lovgren: trumpet; Tim Hagans: trumpet; Maffy Falay: trumpet; Lars Farnlof: trumpet; Lennart Aberg: alto, tenor sax, flute; Peter Gullin: alto sax; Stefan Isaksson: tenor sax; Tommy Koverhult: tenor sax; Gunnar Bergsten: baritone sax; Stanislav Cieslak: trombone; Lars Olofsson: trombone; Nils Landgren: trombone; Sven Larsson: bass trombone; Hakan Nyquist: French horn; Horace Parlan: piano; Doug Raney: guitar; Torbjorn Hultcrantz: bass; Leif Wennerstrom: drums.
Letter to a Friend
Tracks: Desiderata; Theme for Tima; Letter to a Friend; Sleeping Ships; In the Westside; Evening Song; Love You Madly; September Boy; Silent Night; You Made a Good Move.
Personnel: Kirill Bubyakin: co-leader, alto sax, flute; Serge Bogdanov: co-leader, arranger, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Roman Rogkov: trumpet; Serge Margolin: trumpet; Akeksey Dmitriev: trumpet; Roman Kvachev: trumpet; Maria Art: alto sax (2-8, 10); Andrey Blinchevskiy: alto sax (1, 9); Juriy Bogatirev: tenor sax; Vyacheslav Ipatov: tenor sax; Konstantin Semenov: trombone; Alex Kozlov: trombone; Pavel Tsigankov: trombone; Valentin Patsuk: trombone; Andrey Zimovets: piano; Nick Zatolochniy: bass; Gregoriy Voskoboynik: bass (1, 9); Egor Krukovskih: drums. Special guestsDavid Goloschekin: flugelhorn, vibraphone; Igor Butman: tenor, soprano sax.
The Very Thought of You
Tracks: The Very Thought of You; Everything Happens to Me; Someone to Watch Over Me; You Go to My Head; Smile; That Old Feeling; Embraceable You; Polka Dots and Moonbeams; I'm Through with Love; But Beautiful; Nevertheless; Moon River; Try a Little Tenderness; It Had to Be You.
Personnel: Ian McDougall: trombone, arranger; Rick Wilkins: arranger; Oliver Gannon: guitar; Ron Johnson: piano; Neil Swainson: bass; Craig Scott: drums; Roger Cole: solo oboe. String orchestra led by Rebecca Whitling.
Tracks: Kansas City Child; Central Avenue; Dizzy Gillespie; Randy Weston; Solo Saxophone Introduction; Detroit / Kingston; Homecoming; "Let Me Not Lose My Dream."
Personnel: Geof Bradfield: tenor, soprano sax, bass clarinet; Victor Garcia: trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion; Joel Adams: trombone; Jeff Parker: guitar; Ryan Cohan: piano; Clark Sommers: bass; George Fludas: drums, percussion; Maggie Burrell: vocal (7).
Tracks: Away West; Echoes of the Grassland; Coronado's Dream; Days of August; Desert Flower; Summer Passage; Arcangel; Wind and Sand; Prairie Fugue.
Personnel: Bruce Lofgren: composer, arranger, guitar; Doug Livingston: pedal steel guitar; Mike Flick: acoustic bass; Jack LeCompte: drums, percussion.