An integral part of jazz for over sixty years, alto great Bud Shank has compiled over fifty diverse albums in his long and distinguished career. While he grew up with the Big Band Era and later, as a professional, became part of the Charlie Barnet and Stan Kenton big bands, he never desired to lead his own big band until last year at the sprightly age of 79. Upon the celebration of Stan Kenton's Neophonic Orchestra's fortieth anniversary at the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, he was asked to lead a big band for the occasion, which he accepted. Shank had previously played with that particular Kenton Orchestra.
He assembled some of the best musicians of the Los Angeles/West Coast jazz scene for this endeavor. The group includes trumpeters Carl Saunders and Ron Stout, trombonists Andy Martin and Mike Barone, saxophonists Lanny Morgan, Doug Webb and Jack Nimitz, and pianist Christian Jacob, plus a special appearance by pianist Bob Florence on the title track.
The leader drew upon arrangements by Bob Cooper, Mike Barone, Manny Album and Bob Florence, as well as one of his own, to produce eight tracks of sensational and fiery big band music with a touch of class. The album was recorded live in May 2005 at the LAX Four Points Sheraton Hotel in Los Angeles. The concert starts off with a Barone composition, "Rosebud," a rousing, crowd-pleasing big band number that delivers an immediate sonic blast, prompting Shank to comment afterwards, "This is fun." He selected the second track, "Waltz For Debby," for one of his favorite musicians, Bill Evans. The group treats the melodic piece gently.
I've heard many versions of Cole Porter's classic "Night And Day," but none done so with such spunk and swiftness as this rendition, on which Shank lays down some cool and crisp choruses on alto. Shank borrows an arrangement by trombonist Jiggs Whigham for the incredible "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes," a hot and furious tune in which he shares the stage with tenor saxophonist Doug Webb. Together the pair trade broadsides, going back and forth in a memorable performance for what turns out to be the hardest-swinging big band score in the set. Wow!
The band mellows out on Shank's homage to Artie Shaw, "The Starduster," a Barone arrangement with a soft and warm melody. Shank makes an impassioned solo journey on this beautifully orchestrated piece. The title cut, featuring pianist Bob Florence, was the only low point. It seemed to be a rather hard, choppy tune with various changes in directionand for me, a bit too long and drawn out at over seventeen minutes. Nevertheless, Taking The Long Way Home captures a historical musical event, along with a ferocious performance by a legendary altoist.
Duke Ellington once stated that Shank is "The greatest part of Kenton's Neophonic concert." With a supporting cast of phenomenal musicians and terrific charts, this album affirms that claim. Taking The Long Way Home is one of the best big band discs of the year.
Personnel: Bud Shank: leader and alto saxophone; Bob Florence: piano (8); Roger Ingram, Dennis Farias,
Pete DiSiena, Ron Stout, Carl Saunders: trumpet; Andy Martin, Mike Barone, Charlie Morales,
Craig Gosnell:trombones; Lanny Morgan, Kieth Bishop, Doug Webb, Brian Williams, Jack
Nimitz: saxophones; Christian Jacob: piano; Joel Hamilton: bass; Kevin Kanner: drums.