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These are the third and fourth albums recorded for Green Hill Music by Chris McDonald, one of the finest big–band arrangers you’ve never heard. But unlike the other two ( Big Band Hymns, Big Band Christmas, reviewed in November), there’s nothing special about them. Nothing new either. After all, the world hasn’t exactly been holding its collective breath waiting for fresh arrangements of “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” “In the Mood,” “A String of Pearls” or the other chestnuts re–roasted by McDonald’s orchestra on these discs. And instead of reaching for the uncommon, as he has on other occasions, McDonald chooses the path of least resistance here, and almost everything sounds like a stock arrangement with predictable unison passages and indifferent solos. The band is fine, with every note tucked neatly in its proper place, but there’s little flash or fire. It’s music designed expressly for dancing or perhaps reminiscing about the good old days. As McDonald is capable of doing more, one guesses that he may have been entrusted to record albums of well–known big–band music whose arrangements would embody as closely as possible the spirit of the originals without rocking the boat, which he has done. The finished product appears to be directed toward those of my generation who remember fondly Miller, Goodman, Ellington, Dorsey, James, Herman and other giants of the big–band era, or youngsters who may be only dimly aware of them but have been drawn to their orbit by the latter–day resurgence in swing music. If it can help move some of those neophytes a step closer to Jazz, that would indeed be worthwhile. But if, like me, you’ve already heard and enjoyed the originals, you can overlook these facsimiles without remorse.
Track listing: Classics — Stompin’ at the Savoy; The Joint Is Jumpin’ /Let’s Dance; Stardust; Tuxedo Junction; I’ll Never Smile Again; Sing, Sing, Sing (with a swing); I Can’t Get Started; The Way You Look Tonight; Solitude; Four Brothers (40:56). Favorites — In the Mood; Take the “A” Train; I’ll Be Seeing You; Moonlight Serenade; A String of Pearls; It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing); I’m Getting Sentimental Over You; Chattanooga Choo Choo; Mood Indigo; Opus One (40:36).
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.