Beware the fine print. The bold heading on this album reads “Don Bowes Big Band.” Below it, in smaller type, are the words “featuring Jan Laurie.” Laurie, the band’s resident vocalist, sings on ten of the seventeen selections. Nothing personal, Jan, but I’d rather hear the band, which sounds altogether respectable on the seven instrumentals. Pianist Nick Levinovsky showcases his wife, singer Kathy Jenkins, on another album reviewed this month, but the label there reads “Kathy Jenkins with the Nick Levinovsky Big Band,” so one knows from the outset what’s inside the package. “Featuring Jan Laurie,” while less explicit, denotes in its own way who’s the star of this show. Lest there be any misunderstanding, we should affirm that Laurie, who was born in London, raised in Melbourne, Australia, and now lives in Canada, doesn’t sing badly. In fact, as band singers go, she’s reasonably decorous. But good enough to command stage center on a big–band date? That rests to some degree on one’s fondness for vocalists; we’d have to vote nay, largely because we consider Jazz ensembles far more engaging than singers. Others, of course, are welcome to disagree. On the affirmative side of the ledger, Bowes’ Canadian–based band is on the whole productive on those seven instrumentals — Tom Kubis’ “Exactly Like This,” Louie Bellson’s “Louis Shuffle,” Paul Baker’s “Maxwell D. Cat,” John Warrington’s “Walkin’ Easy,” Paul Clark’s “Tijuana Shuffle” and two essays by the peerless Sammy Nestico, “Lonely Street” and “A Little Happiness.” Bowes has a number of blue–collar soloists — most notably tenor Bruce Redstone, trombonist Carl Korody, alto Gord Evans and guitarist Ken Taylor — but none who is in any sense extraordinary. The same can be said for the ensemble as a whole — decent but unexceptional. If there were more instrumentals and less Laurie, it would no doubt earn a higher grade from this appraiser.
Track listing: ’Deed I Do; Exactly Like This; I Got It Bad; Blue Skies; The Louis Shuffle; Alone Together; A Foggy Day; Maxwell D. Cat; The Nearness of You; Walkin’ Easy; Everyday I Have the Blues; Lonely Street; I’m Beginning to See the Light; A Little Happiness; Willow Weep for Me; Tijuana Dance; That’s All (64:43).
Don Bowes, leader, tenor sax; Gord Evans, Ted Franklin, alto sax; Bruce Redstone, tenor sax; Jeff Densham, baritone sax; Wilf Sharp, Jack Train, Buddy March, Michael Rosen, trumpet; Carl Korody, Orlando Guerrieri, Jack MacQuarrie, Karen Maxwell, trombone; Hugh van Melle, keyboards; Ken Taylor, guitar; Alfred Gertler, bass; Leigh Robinson, drums; Jan Laurie, vocals.