This earnest homage to New York City, recorded in concert during the city’s 1999 JVC Jazz Festival, opens charmingly with half a dozen great old Ellington tunes, each of which depicts musically an aspect of life in Harlem. After that, trumpeter Randy Sandke’s never–quite–a–big–band embarks on a whirlwind tour of the city with stops at Chinatown, Washington Square, Broadway, Park Avenue, 42nd and 52nd Streets, Times Square and Grand Central Station before climbing aboard the celebrated “‘A’ Train.” The opening medley is enhanced by Eric Reed’s sparkling piano, Joe Ascione’s brash yet tasteful drumming (including a Buddy Rich–inspired workout on “Harlem Speaks”) and marvelous solos by almost everyone else, with Joe Temperley’s warm baritone featured on “Sugar Hill Penthouse” and Warren Vaché’s agile trumpet on “Blue Belles of Harlem.” The warhorse “Chinatown” frolics to a Dixie beat with Mark Shane at the keyboard and the Vaché brothers, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and guitarist Howard Alden providing the solo punch. After a second medley (“Rose of Washington Square,” “Broadway Rose”) with enterprising solos by Sandke, Shane, Alden, bassist Rodney Whitaker and Gordon’s growling trombone, the band steps aside while Alden and Ken Peplowski take their urbane guitar and clarinet, respectively, “Slumming on Park Avenue.” Sandke and Warren Vaché are the marquee headliners on “42nd Street,” reprising Harry Warren’s show–stopping tune from their Warren Meets Warren
album. Proving its versatility, the ensemble moves from swing to bop on Charlie Parker’s impulsive “Scrapple from the Apple,” to the blues on Charles Mingus’s whimsical “Nostalgia in Times Square,” to the contemporary era with John Coltrane’s busy “Grand Central” (enlivened by blazing solos from Gordon, Reed and tenor Scott Robinson), returns to bop with Thelonious Monk’s perky “52nd Street Theme” (more ferocious drumming by Ascione) and exits swinging on Billy Strayhorn’s irrepressible “‘A’ Train.” A luminous, well–designed concert date with something to please almost any Jazz enthusiast.