It is a common practice to title an album after one of the pieces composed for and performed on the recording, sometimes attributing a special meaning or theme to the music. Such is the case with saxophonist Ed Vezinho's "With Friends Like These." Alongside trumpeter Jim Ward, Vezinho has co-led the Ed Vezinho-Jim Ward Big Band for twenty-six years with a largely unchanged line-up, providing undeniable testimony that beautiful music can be made when fortunate enough to have "friends like these."
The big band's third release following Smile (DAB Records, 2000) and Blue Haired Mama (Self-Published, 2003), With Friends Like These is its first for Philadelphia-based Dreambox Media. Supported by scorching woodwinds and a howling brass section led by Ward, this sixteen-piece high octane big band, comprised of the finest showroom musicians in Atlantic City, delivers a "blow your socks off," power-infused performance typical of traditional muscle ensembles.
Vezinho and Ward make the recording more enticing by recruiting a host of guest soloists including tenor saxophonists Larry McKenna and Michael Pedicin, flugelhornists Al Harrison and George Rabbai, and trumpeter Pete Colangelo all rounding out the Philadelphia influence on the music.
With an exciting mix of Vezinho originals and arrangements of familiar standards, the album opens with the co-leader's "Hat Out of Bell," where the group's energetic opening statement quickly establishes an aggressive mode that sets the stage and theme for the recording. Rick Kerber, a former member who passed away before the recording of Smile, is remembered here as the band performs his "Jofa," with a special appearance by younger brother/soprano saxophonist Ron Kerber.
Sammy Cahn's "All The Way" is the first jazz standard, taken for a wild ride by the band's powerful horn section and featuring a dicey performance by Pedicin. Duke Ellington would indeed be proud of the way "Sophisticated Lady" is treated here, especially by Stan Weiss' warm baritone solo, accompanied by guitarist Brian Betz. Guest Denis DiBlasio delivers the disc's other outstanding baritone solo on "Secret Love."
Philadelphia jazz icon Larry McKenna lends his tenor voice to the Loerner & Lowe standard "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face," providing a delicate sound gently treated with light orchestral play by the band for a nice ballad. Playing a high-pitched Maynard Ferguson-like trumpet, Ward leads the band on "I'll Be Around," another soft ballad.
Other stand out tunes include "Trumpetland," "Maybe," the finale "Runnin' Away From You," and Vezinho's swinging title piece, which is a feature for Colangelo and band trumpeter Mike Natale, creating some terrific horn play.
For those who favor the big band sound, Vezhino and Ward's selection of music and clever arrangements will be exceptionally pleasing. Most of all, the musicianship, solos and all around outstanding performances from a truly world-class orchestra and guests give special meaning to the phrase With Friends Like These.
Personnel: Ed Vezinho: alto saxophone, flute, clarinet; Jim Ward: trumpet; Howard Isaacson: alto saxophone, flute, clarinet; John Guida: tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet; Joe Rotella: tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet; Stan Weiss: baritone saxophone; Joe Scannella: trumpet; Dennis Wasko: trumpet; Dave Kennedy: trumpet; Mike Natale: trumpet; Joe Zeigenfus: trombone; Clint Sharman: trombone; Rich Goldstein: trombone; Joe Jacobs: trombone; Demetrious Pappas: piano; Andy Lalasis: bass; Harry Himles: drums; Ron Kerber: soprano saxophone (2); Michael Pedicin: tenor saxophone (3); Larry McKenna: tenor saxophone (11); Denis DiBlasio: baritone saxophone (7); Skip Spratt: tenor saxophone (11); Robert Rawlins: flute (4); Al Harrison: flugelhorn (3); George Rabbai: flugelhorn (7); Pete Colangelo: trumpet (5); Brian Betz: guitar (6, 12).