There are three tracks — “Wichita Lineman,“ “Dreamsville,” “Limehouse Blues” — on the Frank Mantooth Orchestra’s latest release that warrant inclusion in anyone’s big–band library. But the fact that there are no more than that is mildly disappointing when one considers Mantooth’s widely recognized stature as a top–rank composer/arranger (all the charts are his except Randy Brecker’s “Guarujá,” scored by Tom Matta). In fairness, four of the ten selections are vocals, and Mantooth has provided sumptuous orchestral backdrops for Kevin Mahogany (“Three Little Words,” “I’ll Never Stop Loving You”), Diane Schuur (“One for Monterey”) and the opening Mahogany/Schuur duet (“A Miracle”). But none of these songs could reasonably be described as memorable, and the lyrics to Carroll Coates’ “One for Monterey” are instantly forgettable. “Three Little Words,” sung by Mahogany, isn’t the Kalmar/Ruby standard (would that it were) but a new bossa that he co–authored with Paul Hoffman. Strangely, the two songs that would seem to lend themselves most readily to high–flying Jazz arrangements — Charles Trenet’s “Beyond the Sea” and Rodgers and Hart’s “Thou Swell” — never get off the runway, even though trumpeter Art Davis and alto Howie Smith (“Beyond the Sea”) and tenor Pete Christlieb and trumpeter Bobby Shew (“Thou Swell”) labor to redeem them with glowing solos. “Beyond the Sea” flows nicely but lacks the required spark (for comparison’s sake, listen to Bobby Darin’s dynamic late–’50s version). “Thou Swell” has its moments, but the shifting time signatures are in this case more disconcerting than likable while modulating its essential drive. “Limehouse Blues” fares much better in that respect (and includes fiery choruses by Shew, guitarist Danny Embrey and alto Kim Park). Other soloists worth noting include trombonist Dave Steinmeyer (“Wichita Lineman,” “Dreamsville”), tenor Steve Eisen (“Wichita Lineman”), trumpeter Kirk Garrison and pianist Larry Harris (“Guarujá”), tenor Pat LaBarbera and trombonist Paul McKee (“Three Little Words”). An uneven session that is guardedly recommended for the pleasures it does encompass.
Track listing: A Miracle; Wichita Lineman; Guarujá; Three Little Words; Beyond the Sea; One for Monterey; Dreamsville; Thou Swell; I’ll Never Stop Loving You; Limehouse Blues (59:19).
Collective personnel: Frank Mantooth, leader, piano (on “I’ll Never Stop Loving You”); Mike Smith, Jim Massoth, Howie Smith, Kim Park, alto sax; Steve Eisen, Mark Colby, Pete Christlieb, Pat LaBarbera, tenor sax; Jerry DiMuzio, Scott Robinson, baritone sax; Danny Barber, Kirk Garrison, Rob Parton, Art Davis, Bobby Shew, Pete Olstad, trumpets; Tom Garling, Mark Bettcher, Mike Young, Dave Steinmeyer, Paul McKee, trombones; Tom Matta, bass trombone; Larry Harris, piano, synthesizer; John McLean, Danny Embrey, guitar; Larry Kohut, Lou Fischer, bass; Phil Gratteau, Ray Brinker, drums; Alejo Poveda, Jose Rendon, percussion; Diane Schuur, Kevin Mahogany, vocals. On “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” add Kay Ragsdale, flute; Carl Sonik, oboe; David Jones, Jerry DiMuzio, clarinet; Peter Brusen, bassoon; John Boen, horn; Marcia LaBella, harp; Adrian Gola, Benita Barber, Alan Ellsworth, Terry Jares, Lisa Fako, Barb Farley, Ralph Boyd, Neil Samples, Janelle O’Brien, Tony DeMarco, violins; Linda Reyes, Janette Simmons, violas; David Reyes, Bill Simmons, cello.