From time to time, drummer Louie Bellson releases an album with a "theme" (Their Time Was the Greatest, dedicated to big-band drummers; Air Mail Special, to celebrated bandleaders, for example). This time around, with Art of the Chart, he has chosen to salute some of the world's finest arrangers. A wise choice, as charts are the fuel that powers the big-band engine, and without them the silence would indeed be deafening. Two of these charts ("To C. P. with Love," "With Bells On") are by Thad Jones, with one each by Bob Florence ("Your Wake Up Call"), Bill Holman ("Quiet Riot"), Jack Hayes ("Conte") and Ernie Wilkins ("3x5+16"). The other six are by Doc Severinsen's former chief arranger, Tommy Newsom. Louie has recorded at least three of them before, two ("With Bells On," "Quiet Riot") with a big band, the other ("Berne, Baby, Berne!") with a septet. Louie wrote that one with Remo Palmier, with whom he also collaborated on "To C. P. with Love" and "The Admiral," a lissome and long-overdue feature for the underrated baritone saxophonist Jack Nimitz. Bellson and Hayes co-authored "Conte," "Quiet Riot" (with Holman) and "Ike, Mike and Spike," which showcases the sassy trombone trio of George Bohanon, Jimmy Zito and Andy Martin. Louie wrote "Who Brings You the Good News?" with Newsom, "Summer Love" with Buddy Baker, and "3x5+16" by himself. As usual, Bellson, the consummate professional, has surrounded himself with some of the most accomplished big-band musicians on the planet, as a glance at the personnel affirms. Candoli, Graham, Saunders, Johnson and Szabo in the trumpet section; Lozano, Reed, Christlieb, Woodard and Nimitz comprising the reed section; the aforementioned trombonists; the rock-steady bassist Chuck Berghofer - and of course, Louie himself. In a blindfold test, no one would guess that the band is powered by a 73-year-old drummer, as Bellson radiates the energy and drive of those many years his junior (I'd love to see a cutting contest between him and octogenarian Barrett Deems). While none of the charts is less than respectable, "Wake Up Call," "The Admiral," "To C. P." "Summer Love," "Good News" and "Ike, Spike and Mike" are perhaps a notch above the others. Candoli (muted) is outstanding on his feature, as are Nimitz and Lozano ("Summer Love") on theirs. Another standout is pianist Ross Tompkins, who comps marvelously on his only number, Billy Strayhorn's "Intimacy of the Blues." Bellson, one of the most "musical" of drummers, is the lone soloist on "Berne" and "3x5+16." While it is no more impressive than some of the other fine albums he has recorded, Art of the Chart won't displease any of Louie Bellson's legion of admirers.
Track listing: Berne, Baby, Berne!; The Intimacy of the Blues; To C. P. with Love; Summer Love; Who Brings You the Good News?; Your Wake Up Call; Conte; With Bells On; Quiet Riot; The Admiral; Ike, Mike and Spike; 3x5+16 (64:21).
Louie Bellson, drums; Mike Lang, piano; Ross Tompkins, piano (2); Chuck Berghofer, bass; Conte Candoli, George Graham, Walt Johnson, Carl Saunders, Frank Szabo, trumpets; George Bohanon, Andy Martin, Dave Ryan, Mike Wimberly, Jimmy Zito, trombones; Sal Lozano, Ray Reed, alto sax; Pete Christlieb, Rickey Woodard, tenor sax; Jack Nimitz, baritone sax; Jack Arnold, percussion.