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A rather slow summer for big-band albums has been redeemed in part by a number of trumpet-driven treasures Daniel Barry with Seattle's Jazz Police, Jon Faddis leading the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Alumni Band, Carl Saunders' dynamic Be Bop Big Band and this terrific new release by Wayne Bergeron's battle-hardened crew of southern California heavyweights who swing their way through everything from sparkling originals by Gordon Goodwin, Tom Kubis and Nick Lane to Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky's "Waltz of the Flowers" from Swan Lake and Katharine Lee Bates / Samuel Ward's patriotic anthem, "America the Beautiful." Bergeron, who honed his formidable chops in Maynard Ferguson's high-powered ensemble and has long been known as one of the West Coast's premier lead trumpeters, is an intrepid soloist as well, sort of a cross between Maynard and Arturo Sandoval, each of whom earnestly applauds Wayne's debut as leader. Goodwin, who presided over one of last year's stellar big-band sessions ( Swingin' for the Fences ), wrote and arranged the strapping title selection and salsa-flavored "Horn of Puente," while Kubis composed the bustling "Rhythm Method" and understated "Hospital Blues" and scored "America the Beautiful" and David Raksin / Johnny Mercer's enduring film theme, "Laura." Rounding out the program are Lane's emphatic "Take That!" and Bill Liston's colorful arrangements of "Waltz of the Flowers" and another brisk Latin number, "Friend Like Me" (whose opening passage is briefly reminiscent of "Nature Boy"). Bergeron solos, on trumpet or flugel, on every number, sharing the blowing space with Liston and trombonist Andy Martin on "Friend Like Me," soprano Kubis and alto Dan Higgins on "Rhythm Method," Liston and bass trombonist Bill Reichenbach on "Flowers," trumpeter (and executive producer) Gary Grant and pianist Alan Pasqua on "Hospital Blues," Kubis again on "America the Beautiful," guest tenor Pete Christlieb on "Laura," guest alto Eric Marienthal and organist Tom Ranier on "Take That!" "You Call This a Living?" sets the mood, with Trey Henry's resonant bass and Bergeron's muted trumpet leading to incisive statements by brass and reeds underscored by the sturdy rhythmic lines of Henry, pianist Ranier and drummer Ray Brinker and amplified by Wayne's Ferguson-style closing statement. Bergeron shows the Sandoval influence on "Friend Like Me" and "Horn of Puente," sounds much like Bobby Shew on "Laura," and frames a fiery muted chorus or three on "Rhythm Method." Drummer Peter Erskine, moving nimbly from brushes to sticks, helps keep the pot percolating on "Waltz of the Flowers" and presents a master class in tasteful swinging on "Hospital Blues." If there are criticisms to be made and they are indeed minor they are (1) that Bergeron's ensembles (there are several) are so uncommonly proficient and make everything seem so remarkably effortless that the casual listener may (mistakenly) equate their expertise with a lack of intensity or enthusiasm, and (2) that the rhythm sections, especially pianists Ranier and Pasqua, are sometimes recorded too prominently. Otherwise, one has nothing but good things to say about Bergeron's maiden voyage at the helm of such an indomitable juggernaut. While he may not call this a living, others may quite reasonably call the album a masterpiece.
Track Listing: You Call This a Living?; Friend Like Me; Laura; Rhythm Method; Waltz of the Flowers; Hospital Blues; Horn of Puente; Take That!; America the Beautiful (50:58).
Personnel: Tracks 1-3 -- Wayne Bergeron, George Graham, Stan Martin, Jeff Bunnell, Deborah Wagner, trumpet, flugelhorn; Andy Martin, Alex Iles, Charlie Morillas, trombone; Rich Bullock, bass trombone; Sal Lozano, alto sax; Rusty Higgins, alto sax, flute; Dan Higgins, Bill Liston, Pete Christlieb, tenor sax; Joel Peskin, baritone sax; Tom Ranier, piano; Trey Henry, bass; Ray Brinker, drums; Mitchell "Michito" Sanchez, Latin percussion. Tracks 4-6 -- Wayne Bergeron, Warren Luening, Rick Baptist, Dennis Farias, Larry Hall, Deborah Wagner, trumpet, flugelhorn; Charlie Loper, Andy Martin, Bruce Otto, trombone; Bill Reichenbach, bass trombone; Tom Kubis, soprano sax; Dan Higgins, Greg Huckins, alto sax, flute; Bill Liston, Jeff Driskill, tenor sax, flute; Jay Mason, baritone sax, flute; Alan Pasqua, piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Peter Erskine, drums. Track 7 -- Gary Grant, Wayne Bergeron, trumpet, flugelhorn; Andy Martin, Bill Reichenbach, tenor, bass trombone; Dan Higgins, alto, tenor sax, flute; Bill Liston, alto, tenor, baritone sax; Tom Ranier, piano; Trey Henry, bass; Ray Brinker, drums; Luis Conte, Latin percussion. Track 8 -- Gary Grant, Wayne Bergeron, trumpet; Nick Lane, Bill Reichenbach, tenor, bass trombone; Eric Marienthal, alto sax; Dan Higgins, alto, tenor, baritone sax; Gary Meek, alto, tenor sax; Tom Ranier, piano, organ; Grant Geissman, guitar; Trey Henry, bass; Ray Brinker, drums. Track 9 -- Gary Grant, Wayne Bergeron, trumpet, flugelhorn; Charlie Loper, Andy Martin, tenor, bass trombone; Tom Kubis, soprano sax; Dan Higgins, alto, tenor, baritone sax; Gary Meek, alto, tenor sax; Wally Minko, piano; Ken Wild, bass; Brian Miller, drums.