The "30" in the title of the superlative all-woman Diva Jazz Orchestra's latest album stands for 30 years,
which, believe it or not, is how long the orchestra and its remarkable drummer and leader, Sherrie Maricle
, have been up and running and making beautiful music at home and abroad. Among U.S.-based big bands, it would seem that only Count Basie
, Duke Ellington
and Woody Herman
have had longer runs than that. Fast company indeed. So is Diva ready for comparisons? Oh, yes; in fact, more than ready. Simply close your eyes, open your mind, and Diva is on an equal footing with any big band you are likely to hear, male or female, past or present, in spite of some sonic hindrances imposed by a live recording.
Even classics like Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone" and Basie's "Every Day I Have the Blues" are given fresh and exciting rides, thanks in part to the orchestra's virtuosity and as much to superb charts by Dennis Mackrel
and Scott Whitfield
, respectively. Sue Giles
sings with warmth and passion on "Every Day," as she does on "Here's to Life" and a persuasive six-song tribute to the great Ella Fitzgerald
("The Object of My Affection," "How High the Moon," "Stompin' at the Savoy/Undecided," "A Tisket, a Tasket," "Oh, Lady Be Good").
According to Maricle, the album's ten numbers are for the most part band and fan favorites, most of which have ben recorded before including the galvanic opening track, "Something's Coming"from Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim's musical masterpiece, West Side Story
which was the title of the orchesta's debut album in 1995. Soloists on Michael Abene
's splendid arrangement are alto saxophonist Erica von Kleist and trumpeter Kellin Hanas
. "Mellow Tone" (first recorded by the orchestra in 2002) is next, encompassing inspired solos by trumpeter Jami Dauber
and (muted) trombonist Jen Krupa
Following "Here's to Life," Maricle lets her drums speak for themselves on Rich Shemaria
's dynamic arrangement of Ellington's "I'm Gonna Go Fishin,'" crafting a fiery solo to amplify eloquent statements by bass trombonist Leslie Havens
, bassist Norika Ueda
and tenor Laura Dreyer. Also from West Side Story
(and first recorded by Diva in 1998) comes Ellen Rowe
's stylish treatment of "I Feel Pretty," whose handsome solos are by flugel Barbara Laronga
and baritone Leigh Pilzer
Still wishing for a guaranteed show-stopper? Wish no longer, as help is on the way in the form of "Three Sisters and a Cousin," the late Stanley Kay's emphatic answer to Jimmy Giuffre
's memorable "Four Brothers." The close "relatives" here are altos von Kleist and Scheila Gonzales
, tenors Dreyer and Jade Elliott
, and baritone Pilzer. Maricle is her usual assertive self, while the orchestrato borrow a phrase from another Woody Herman stapleis blowin' up a storm.
Lest you may think that's the last of the album's pleasant surprises, think again, as there are two more to come, starting with a truly unforeseen eye-opener, the late Tommy Newsom
's charming arrangement of "Inka Dinka Doo," a song most closely associated with comedian Jimmy Durante. The band settles into a snug and amiable groove while Pilzer and pianist Tomoko Ohno
make sure the swing thermometer remains high. "Inka Dinka Doo," a band favorite first recorded by Diva in 1997, proves an ideal prelude to the album's closing number, Maricle's roaring arrangement of Charlie Christian
's animated "Air Mail Special," on which she bombards the drums in the manner of her leading role model, the incomparable Buddy Rich
. Other soloists are von Kleistthis time on soprano saxtrumpeter Hanas and bassist Ueda. A laudable way to end the concert.
As noted, Diva nails every number on this impressive anniversary narrative, recorded in front of an enthusiastic audience at Dizzy's Club in New York City. One reason not yet mentioned for that is the imposing presence of peerless lead trumpeter Liesl Whitaker
, a charter member of the ensemble who remains one of the best there is at presiding over a section. The orchestra as a whole is exemplary, the charts consistently colorful and pleasing. Five stars for artistic excellence and remarkable longevity.
Something’s Coming; In a Mellow Tone; Here’s to Life; I’m Gonna Go Fishin’; Every Day I Have
the Blues; I Feel Pretty; Three Sisters and a Cousin; A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald (The Object of
My Affection/How High the Moon/A Tisket, a Tasket/Oh, Lady Be Good); Inka Dinka Doo;