I'd best take care when reviewing this album by trumpet maestro Carl Saunders, as I could run short of laudatory adjectives before the appraisal has been completed. For those who are unfamiliar with his c.v., Saunders has been enriching big-band trumpet sections for more than four decades, having cut his teeth with the renowned Stan Kenton Orchestra while still a teen-ager in 1960. The pedigree is immaculate too; Carl's mother, Gail Sherwood, once sang with Kenton, and his uncle, Bobby Sherwood, was a well-known bandleader in the '40s. While Saunders has presided over a number of bands in his hometown of Las Vegas, he has recorded only twice before as leader, and never with an ensemble that is in any way comparable to this one. Saunders has made a lot of friends in the music business, and with friends like these one is able to put together a big band so proficient and powerful that it can easily blow almost any adversary out of the water. But no orchestra is better than its charts, and here Saunders scores another coup with the inclusion of half a dozen incontestably brilliant compositions and arrangements by his long-time friend and mentor, the late Herbie Phillips, to whom the album is dedicated. To them Saunders adds three of his own ("I'm All for You," "Never Always," "Baby Blues"), Ivan Lins' "Love Dance" and the beauteous standards "Emily" (a tour de force for the superb young trombonist Andy Martin) and "Autumn in New York" (showcasing Saunders' mind-blowing trumpet). Phillips was fond of clever titles, and his tunes include "Perceptive Hindsight," "Some Bones of Contention" (the "'bones" in question belonging to Martin and Bob McChesney), "Strike Out the Band," "Dearly Befuddled" and "An Apple for Christa" (for the late teacher-turned-astronaut Christa McAuliffe). Phillips also wrote the sunny opener, "Compilation," which serves to introduce another of the band's stellar improvisers, veteran alto saxophonist Lanny Morgan, whose fiery deposition complements those by Saunders, McChesney, tenor Jerry Pinter and pianist Christian Jacob. Saunders is featured on trumpet and flugel on "Love Dance," on trumpet (with Morgan) on "I'm All for You," but he's not the only member of that section to make the spotlight his own. Ron Stout is bright and agile on "Hindsight" and "Never Always," Bobby Shew smooth and steady on "Strike Out the Band," Bob Summers quick and expressive on "Christa" before Saunders returns to close the show with a typically eloquent discourse on "Baby Blues." Other soloists of note include tenor Doug Webb ("Hindsight," "Dearly Befuddled"), alto Brian Scanlon ("Never Always") and bassist Kevin Axt ("Baby Blues"). Well, we're nearing the end of the review and have a few adjectives left, so we may as well use some of them now. Awesome. Spectacular. Breathtaking. Sublime. Be Bop Big Band is all of that and more. Simply put, one of the most memorable big-band albums in recent memory, one that should not be passed over by anyone who admires the genre.
Contact: Sea Breeze Records, P.O. Box 1910, Pismo Beach, CA 93448-1910. Phone 818-489-2055; www.carlsaunders.com; or e-mail email@example.com
Track Listing: Compilation; Love Dance; Emily; I'm All for You; Perceptive Hindsight; Never Always; Some Bones of Contention; Strike Out the Band; Autumn in New York; Dearly Befuddled; An Apple for Christa; Baby Blues (77:31).
Personnel: Carl Saunders, Frank Szabo, Bobby Shew, Ron Stout, Bob Summers, Scott Englebright (3, 8, 9), trumpet; Charlie Loper, Andy Martin, Bob McChesney, trombone; Pete Brockman, Sam Cernuto (3, 8, 9), bass trombone; Lanny Morgan, Brian Scanlon, alto sax; Jerry Pinter, Doug Webb, tenor sax; Bob Efford, baritone sax; Christian Jacob, piano; Kevin Axt, bass; Santo Savino, drums.