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Richie Cole: Back on Top

Rob Mariani By

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How do you get four horns and a rhythm section to sound like a sixteen-piece orchestra without using overdubbing or any other kind of electronic enhancement?

"After many years of experimenting with chords and harmonies, altoist/arranger Richie Cole explains, "I've developed certain secret compositional techniques to create the big band sound of the Alto Madness Orchestra. And they work amazingly well. Listening to this group before I read the liner notes, I assumed it was a big band. It's a really an excellent showcase for Cole and his guys, all of whom are equally at home in the spotlight or as ensemble players.

Cole's arrangements aren't far out or strange. They're all very accessible, with a number of tips-of-the-hat to guys like Nelson Riddle and Billy May, and other composers as well. In fact, the arrangements quote riffs from quite a few standard tunes, as do the soloists throughout. I found this got a little trite after a few cuts. The title tune, for instance, quotes "Cherokee three or four times, as well as "Fascinatin' Rhythm and "Seven Steps to Heaven. But on the whole, I really enjoyed the verve and easy swing these guys put forth. It's pretty irresistible. Cole has a classic alto sound and his phrasing seems made for the instrument. I was reminded of Art Pepper's facility and swooping, multi-note choruses.

Tenor man Billy Ross has a classic tone, and he and Cole share an easy swing time feeling on tunes like "Remembering Oliver Nelson and "A Walk in the Park. Rick Stepton's trombone lends a lot of body to the ensemble playing, and his solos are all kinds of fun to listen to, as are his relaxed, lyrical choruses on "Don't Misunderstand. Trumpeter Nathan Eklund tends to blend seamlessly into the ensemble. His brief solos didn't really knock me out with their creativity, but Eklund's playing fits this context perfectly.

The rhythm section of guitarist Andrei Riabov, bassist Rick Crane, and drummer Wayne Dunton is a smooth, flawless support team, and I would have liked to have heard more solo work from all of them. As much fun as the swinging tunes on this CD are to listen to, my favorite cut was the ballad "Portrait of Jenny. It's the only tune that's not a Cole original, but it's given a very original and respectful treatment. The arrangement is so richly constructed and full of color and nuance that you'd swear you were listening to a full sixteen-piece band. Just how he does this remains Richie Cole's secret.


Track Listing: Remembering Oliver Nelson; Jazz Excursion; A Walk in the Park; Uncle Freddy; Home Town; Don

Personnel: Richie Cole: alto saxophone; Billy Ross: tenor saxophone; Rick Stepton: trombone; Nathan Eklund: trumpet; Andrei Riabov: guitar; Rick Crane: bass; Wayne Dunton: drums.

Title: Back on Top | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Jazz Excursion Records

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