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Some debuts are long overdue, and this is one of them. Drummer Vince Bilardo has been a Kansas City phenomenon for more than four decades, a man who, in the words of saxophonist and co–producer Kim Park, “has inspired and tutored three generations of musicians to reach for the best they can possibly be.” It’s time the rest of us had a chance to hear him do what he does best. When plans for this enterprise were completed, Bilardo, now in his 70s and semi–retired, had some misgivings about his ability to power a big band as he had so many times in the past, so he sequestered himself in his basement “woodshed” and spent many hours priming his chops. Soon he and the band were in the studio, and the result of their collective efforts is a marvelous album that lays bare no weakness, especially in the drum chair. Bilardo remains a phenomenon, and the band honors him by striving, as Park writes in the liner notes, “to play [our] asses off.” Park is one of those who does exactly that, soloing with the ensemble on “Invincible Stomp” and “Just Plain Meyer” and with Bilardo’s trio (pianist Joe Cartwright, bassist Gerald Spaits) on “What Is This Thing Called Love” and “Triste.” His appearance on the last two, Bilardo writes, was a complete surprise. “Joe and Gerald set up a bass pattern [on “What Is This Thing”] and we just started playing . . .Being isolated in the booth and playing with my eyes somewhat closed, I was startled to hear an alto sax in my head. Kim had decided to join us and gave the tune another dimension and a great deal of excitement. Kim stayed with us and changed over to soprano sax for the last tune, ‘Triste’.” Park’s decision to sit in was inspired, as he shapes a masterful solo on Cole Porter’s standard, acknowledging his debt to Phil Woods as well as to another awesome alto saxophonist, his late father, John Park. The trio sans Park is showcased on three selections (“Watch What Happens,” “The Days of Wine and Roses,” “You and the Night and the Music”), the larger ensemble on the others including one, “The Best Is Yet to Come,” with vocalist Lloyd Schad. The finale, “Viva Bilardo,” was written thirty–five years ago by Dave Zoller as a drum feature for Bilardo who was then a member of Warren Durrett’s big band. As he pondered the new version, Bilardo writes, “I wasn’t sure I could pull it off.” He does — and so does the band, which is equally sharp on every other occasion. “Invincible Stomp,” composed in the early ’70s by the late Dave Pope, tastes as fresh as today’s oven–baked bread with appetizing solos by Cartwright, Park (on tenor sax), trumpeter Barry Springer and trombonist Rich Coble. Kerry Strayer arranged Ellington’s “Satin Doll,” choosing exactly the right tempo to complement its lovely melody. Solos are by Coble, Cartwright and alto Charles Perkins. “Just Plain Meyer,” written by Kansas City’s Bob (Brook)meyer for the Terry Gibbs “Dream Band” of the late ’50s, is, in Bilardo’s words, “a drummer’s delight” whose warmly swinging groove is guaranteed to put a smile on anyone’s face. The band is loose and chipper here, as are soloists Cartwright, Park (on soprano) and trombonist Bill Drybread. The trombone section, led by Coble and including Drybread, Steve Dekker and bass Bob Koester, is showcased on Tommy Dorsey's theme, "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," while Jobim's "Meditation," an easygoing bossa also arranged by Pope, interlaces bright ensemble passages with strong solos by Cartwright and tenor Don Flint. Bilardo, Spaits and Cartwright play wonderfully together on their three numbers, consummating a superlative team effort that makes one want to throw his cap in the air and shout "Viva Bilardo!"
Track Listing: Invincible Stomp; Watch What Happens; Satin Doll; Triste; The Best Is Yet to Come; Just Plain Meyer; The Days of Wine and Roses; I
Personnel: Vince Bilardo, leader, drums, percussion; Charles Perkins, Jim Vandel, alto sax, flute; Don Flint, Greg Briggs, tenor sax, flute; Kerry Strayer, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Jay Sollenberger, Steve Molloy, Bob Haney, Barry Springer, trumpet; Rich Coble, Steve Dekker, Bill Drybread, trombone; Bob Koester, bass trombone; Joe Cartwright, piano; Gerald Spaits, bass; Lloyd Schad (5), vocal. Guest artist