Whenever master chef Bob Florence sets foot in the kitchen to slice and dice a new album, the listener can be sure that Whatever Bubbles Up will be as tantalizing and tasty as it is nourishing. Florence has been doing this sort of thing for more than four decades and knows how to put together a musical banquet that's guaranteed to please almost everyone's palate.
The entr'es on Florence's latest spread include five of his own singular compositions, two ('Chelsea Bridge,' 'Kissing Bug') by Duke Ellington's alter ego, the awe-inspiring Billy Strayhorn, and last but not least, the Jay Livingston/Ray Evans standard 'Never Let Me Go,' which serves as a vehicle for Florence's elegant solo piano. Bob's charts are edgier and more elaborate than in years gone by, underlining his close kinship with another West Coast colossus, Bill Holman. Like Holman, Florence comes at the listener from all manner of exotic and surprising angles; and like Holman, he uses the entire orchestra as his canvas, sketching provocative 'conversations' among the various sections while never forgetting that the cardinal purpose of a big band is to swing.
The album opens with Florence's 'Dukeisms,' an absorbing tone poem commissioned for the Ellington centenary in 2001. To complement expressive statements by guitarist Larry Koonse, tenor Jeff Driskill, alto Kim Richmond and drummer Dick Weller, there are, according to Florence, five 'musical quotes' from the Ellington canon embedded in the score. See how many you can identify (first time through, I recognized two). 'Nerve Endings,' Florence's 'description of a tennis player,' walks briskly behind resourceful solos by trumpeter Carl Saunders and tenor Tom Peterson, preceding Strayhorn's sublime 'Chelsea Bridge,' which features long-time trombone stalwarts Charlie Loper (who plays the melody) and Bob McChesney.
Weller, trumpeter Ron Stout and a third masterful trombonist, Alex Iles, are the soloists on 'Running with Scissors'inspired, Florence writes, by the admonition from parents to children not to 'run with scissors in your hand'while Koonse and alto Don Shelton share the honors on 'Kissing Bug.' The lustrous 'Q&A' showcases yet another of the band's world-class improvisers, trumpeter Steve Huffsteter, who plays muted all the way. Stout's trumpet, also muted, launches the quirky title selection, the idea for which came to Florence when he heard Mike Myers' answer to a question from Barbara Walters about his future plans ('whatever bubbles up'). Iles and Driskill are the other soloists.
This is another bounteous feast for fans of Bob Florence and the Limited Edition, none of whom will be displeased. The writing is strong and inventive, the performance, as always, top-drawer. One can't say enough about the impeccable brass and reeds, nor about the band's sturdy and adaptable rhythm section (Florence, Weller, Koonse, bassist Trey Henry). 'There is almost total freedom within the rhythm section,' Florence writes. 'Most of the time I just leave them alone and let them find something for me' a stratagem that never seems to go awry. More big-band jazz of the highest order from the esteemed Bob Florence and his (un)Limited Edition.
Track Listing: Dukeisms; Nerve Endings; Chelsea Bridge; Running with Scissors; Kissing Bug; Never Let Me Go;
Q&A; Whatever Bubbles Up (73:41).
Personnel: Bob Florence, composer, arranger, piano; Kim Richmond, Don Shelton, Jeff Driskill, Tom Peterson,
Bob Efford, Bob Carr, reeds; Wayne Bergeron, George Graham, Mike McGuffey, Ron Stout, Steve
Huffsteter, Carl Saunders, trumpet, flugelhorn; Charlie Loper, Alex Iles, Bob McChesney, trombone;
Bryant Byers, bass trombone; Larry Koonse, guitar; Trey Henry, bass; Dick Weller, drums.