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Benny Bailey / Nashville Big Band: A Bird in the Hand

Jack Bowers By

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To accentuate the positive: A Bird in the Hand is Georgia-based drummer Benny Bailey's debut album as a big-band leader, and a splendid one it is, thanks to Bailey's ample talents and those of the Nashville Big Band. The recording arose from a chance meeting in 2011 when another well-known timekeeper, Duffy Jackson, traveled to from Nashville to Atlanta as featured artist with a band in which Bailey was the regular drummer. A bond of friendship and respect was formed, and shortly afterward Jackson phoned to ask if Bailey would like to come to Tennessee to record with Jackson's band. Would he? Bailey wasted no time saying yes to that offer. It seemed only proper, as Bailey's desire to become a big-band drummer had been kick-started when he was in high school and saw the Count Basie orchestra being driven by a remarkable drummer named Duffy Jackson.

Jackson conducted the studio sessions (the first in April 2012, the second in May 2013), each of which swings hard from end to end (no point in wasting a chance to drive the band), starting with Billy Byers' powerful "Billy's Blues" and closing with Sammy Nestico's suitably named "The Heat's On." The lone standard, Frank Loesser's "If I Were a Bell" (from the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls) precedes five more burners: Marcus Lewis' "Bailey's and Coffee," Thad Jones' "Big Dipper," Jay Chattaway's "Arrival," Mark Taylor's "Soft Skies" and Matt Harris' "Why Bother." The tempo is upbeat throughout, with nary a ballad in the barrel and Bailey bludgeoning the drum kit with such insistent force that pleas for mercy would not seem out of place. The ensemble, meanwhile, keeps the burners on high, and there are fiery solos along the way by trumpeters Joe Gross, Steve Herrman and Jim Williamson; tenors Kenny Anderson, Rahsaan Barber and Denis Solee, trombonist Roland Barber and pianist Bruce Dudley.

As noted, these comprise the positive aspects of Bird in the Hand. Concerning the negatives, there is only one, and that is that the album's playing time is a scant thirty-four minutes, or about the length of a typical LP in the old vinyl days. As the storage capacity of a compact disc is roughly eighty minutes, what we have are thirty-four minutes of superlative big-band jazz followed by forty-six minutes of silence. Not enough, perhaps, to dissuade prospective listeners, but enough to impede an otherwise impressive recording from earning the sort of high grade it otherwise would deserve.

Track Listing: Billy’s Blues; If I Were a Bell; Bailey’s and Coffee; Big Dipper; Arrival; Soft Skies; Why Bother; The Heat’s On.

Personnel: Duffy Jackson: music director; Ben Bailey: drums; Mike Casteel: trumpet; Joe Gross: trumpet; Steve Herrman: trumpet; Steve Patrick: trumpet; Jim Williamson: trumpet, flugelhorn; Matt Davich: alto sax; Robby Shankle: alto sax; Kenny Anderson: tenor sax; Rahsaan Barber: tenor sax; Denis Solee: tenor sax; Tom McGinley: baritone sax; Roy Agee: trombone; Roland Barber: trombone; Roger Bissell: trombone; Bill Huber: trombone; Gary Miller: trombone; Ben Polk: trombone; Dave Loucky: bass trombone; David Hungate: guitar; Bruce Dudley: piano; Ike Harris: bass.

Title: A Bird in the Hand | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Self Produced

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