As a rule, a big-band album's song titles are followed by the name(s) of composer and arranger, playing time, and perhaps the names of the various soloists, if there are any. It's rare that one sees time signatures as well, but the late Hank Levy wasn't your garden variety, four-beats-to-the-measure writer. To Levy, who wrote for such musical pacesetters as Stan Kenton and Don Ellis, time was an elastic ingredient, to be expanded, compressed and otherwise adapted to suit the composer's purpose. And so it is that on this two-disc concert performance by the Hank Levy Alumni Band, taped in Feburary '04, An 'Odd-Time' Was Had by All.
The 19-member Alumni Band, formed by trumpeter Ray Disney, is comprised of musicians who studied and/or performed with Levy and are dedicated to keeping his music alive. This is the ensemble's second album; the first, Hank at Home, was recorded four years ago at a nursing home in Baltimore where Levy spent his last few years, with Hank directing, only six months before his death there in September '01. While the sound on that earlier recording is perceptibly better than on this live date, there's no lack of enthusiasm or commitment, and the band charges headlong into Levy's labyrinthine charts, letting it all hang out on the ebullient Disc 2 finale, "Would You Believe.
All of the compositions save one, Rodgers and Hart's "Little Girl Blue, a showcase for the trombone section and Disney's flugelhorn, are Levy's. Tenor saxophonist Barry Caudill is a standout on three "Southern Exposure (5/4), "Whiplash (7/4, 14/8) and "Time for a Change (9/4). Disney solos with Caudill on "Journey to Capricorn (5/4) and with alto Bruce Coates on "Early Riser (7/4) and "Chiapas (5/4). Others who are heard to good advantage include Ron Diehl on alto, soprano and piccolo, Vaughn Ambrose on tenor, Ken Ebo on trombone, Paul Morawski on piano, Skip Grasso on guitar and Steve Ashcraft on drums. "Little Girl Blue is in standard 4/4 time, as are "Thetis, "Would You Believe and a part of "Passacaglia and Fugue.
In commenting on the sound, I did not mean to imply that it is less than acceptable, merely that it is not as transparent as would be the case with most studio recordings. Ensemble passages are marginally less well-defined, and the rhythm section, except for Ashcraft, is occasionally inaudible, but that's not enough to intrude on one's pleasure. For me, the pleasure is amplified by the appearance on Disc 2 of three of Levy's most inspired compositions, "Chiapas, "Time for a Change and "With the Old Man in Mind, the last a buoyant tribute to Kenton.
Although I can't speak for Hank, I'm pretty sure he'd be proud of his alumni, who put on quite a show while breathing new life into his unique and stylish compositions and arrangements. Viva Hank!
Disc 1 : Hank
Gil Rathel, Chris Hutton, Dave Makowiecki, Mike Hufford, Ray Disney, trumpet; Ron Diehl, Bruce Coates, Barry Caudill, Vaughn Ambrose, Tim Brown, reeds; Ken Ebo, Craig Fager, Tedd Wilson, Joy Bravin, Bernie Robier, trombone; Paul Morawski, piano; Skip Grasso, guitar; Justin Lewis, bass; Steve Ashcraft, drums.
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