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The Be–Bop Guitars — all five of them — are faculty members at Boston’s renowned Berklee School of Music, as are the other members of their bright–eyed and bushy–tailed nonet. I can’t say whether all five guitars ever play at the same time, but there’s certainly no overkill here with nimble solos by all hands (no pun intended) and solid contributions from vibraphonist Victor Mendoza, bassist Ron Mahdi and drummer Jon Hazilla (a perceptive accompanist who excels with brushes on “Seven Steps to Heaven” and “Nostalgia in Times Square”). Trumpeter Jerry Seeco adds color on five numbers while mezzo Maggi Scott lends her vocal talents to Burton Lane / Yip Harburg’s “Old Devil Moon” and Toots Thielemans’ “Bluesette.” Eight of the dozen tasteful charts are by music director John Baboian whose lithe, well–modulated guitar is spotlighted on Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” and his own composition, “Seascape.” Mendoza’s vibes introduce the gorgeous ballad “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” a showcase for Mahdi (who’s also heard on Baboian’s breezy “Berklee Shuffle”). Elsewhere, solo space is fairly evenly divided, with Garrison Fewell brandishing his chops on “Blues Update,” “Times Square” and “Freddie the Freeloader,” Jack Pezanelli on “Update,” Baboian’s “Chuco” and “Nostalgia,” John Wilkins on “Chuco,” “Seven Steps” and “Freddie the Freeloader,” John Marasco on “Old Devil Moon” and Sonny Rollins’ “Doxy.” Fewell composed and arranged “Blues Update,” Seeco arranged “Old Devil Moon,” “Seven Steps to Heaven” and “Freddie the Freeloader.” For guitar lovers, a bounteous basket of goodies.
Track Listing: Blues Update; Chuco; God Bless the Child; Old Devil Moon; Seven Steps to Heaven; Seascape; Nostalgia in Times Square; Bluesette; Freddie the Freeloader; Polka Dots and Moonbeams; Doxy; Berklee Shuffle (66:35).
Personnel: John Baboian, music director, guitar; Garrison Fewell, John Marasco, Jack Pezanelli, John Wilkins, guitar; Jerry Seeco, trumpet, flute; Victor Mendoza, vibes, percussion; Ron Mahdi, bass; Jon Hazilla, drums; Maggi Scott (4, 8), vocals.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.