A sure sign that the economic slowdown has crossed our northern border is that Canada’s leading big band, the Boss Brass, has been superseded (after thirty–two years) by the Rob McConnell Tentet. Not to worry; the Tentet is comprised almost entirely of Boss Brass alums (as far as I can tell, tenor Mike Murley and trombonist Terry Promane are the exceptions), has been playing together for nearly four years, and sounds, for lack of a more appropriate description, like a smaller version of the Brass (trumpet, flugel, alto sax, two tenors, two trombones and rhythm — but no French horns). Every member of the group is an accomplished soloist, and each of them has an opportunity or more to brandish his formidable chops on the Tentet’s superb debut album for Justin Time Records. With McConnell supplying the lion’s share of the charts the music leans toward even–tempered and tasteful, but the ensemble can swing with abandon when asked to, as on Dizzy Gillespie’s strapping “Two Bass Hit” or trombonist Ian McDougall’s nimble–footed composition / arrangement, “Ian Leaps Out.” The opener, “Old Devil Moon,” also scurries nicely along hand–in–hand with typically enterprising work by the Tentet’s rhythm–section–to–die–for, pianist Dave Restivo, bassist Steve Wallace and drummer Terry Clarke (it’s a pleasure to welcome him back from the Big Apple), and the first of several admirable solos by tenor Alex Dean. Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low,” which follows, was arranged by George Shearing and orchestrated for the Tentet by Shearing’s bassist and McConnell’s friend, Neil Swainson, with Wallace as soloist. McConnell, as always, has a keen ear for a lovely melody, and is especially fond of Cole Porter’s “Everything I Love.” Great chart, fabulous solos by Rob and pianist Restivo. A second Gillespie tune, the enchanting “Con Alma,” features the gorgeous Harmon–muted trumpet of Steve McDade. One of the tenors (Dean?) appends his signature to Percy Faith’s handsome ballad, “Maybe September,” Restivo is again the main man on Gerry Mulligan’s gently swaying "Theme for Jobim," Promane's sleek trombone introduces Luiz Bonfa's colorful "Manha de Carnaval" and flugel-par-excellence Guido Basso enhances Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" before the ensemble tiptoes softly into the sunset with McConnell's luminous arrangement of another too-seldom-heard beauty, "These Are the Things I Love." One of the things I love is wonderful music played with dexterity and class. Rob McConnell's Tentet easily clears that hurdle.
Contact:Justin Time Records, 5455 rue Paré, Suite 101, Montreal, Quebec H4P 1P7, Canada. Web site, www.justin–time.com
Personnel: Rob McConnell, leader, valve trombone; Terry Promaine, trombone; Guido Basso, flugelhorn; Steve McDade, trumpet; P. J. Perry, alto sax; Mike Murley, Alex Dean, tenor sax; Dave Restivo, piano; Steve Wallace, bass; Terry Clarke, drums.