The second album by trumpeter Craig Raymond’s Next Generation Big Band is almost a mirror image of the first; that is to say, a bright and swinging jazz/dance session from start to finish. There are some modest points of departure, however, as Raymond has added a few new wrinkles—a “Frank Sinatra tribute” by vocalist Lou Dottoli, a number of shapely tenor solos courtesy of Philadelphia standout Larry McKenna, and three tastefully drawn arrangements by Grant Whisler.
While it goes without saying that Dottoli, the headliner on five numbers, is no Sinatra (there has, after all, been only one), that’s not to say he isn’t a first-rate singer with a pleasing personality, because he is. Dottoli radiates warmth and charisma on “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “The Summer Wind,” “The Girl from Ipanema,” “Come Rain or Come Shine” and “For Once in My Life,” emulating Sinatra’s carefully planned spur-of-the-moment style but stopping short of outright impersonation.
The band is in control the rest of the way, and is in a playful mood from the opening measures of Vincent Youmans’ “I Want to Be Happy” to the last shout chorus on Steve Allen’s “This Could Be the Start of Something Big.” In between are splendid readings of “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” “In the (Swing) Mood” (an up-tempo version of the Glenn Miller theme) and those handsome charts by Whisler—“It’s a Wonderful World,” “Street of Dreams” (featuring lead alto Jeff Darrohn) and his own composition, “Sort o’ Blue.” McKenna, one of Philly’s leading lights, shows why on “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.”
As I wrote in reviewing the band’s earlier album, It’s Our Time, the “next generation” seems to be in capable hands. If medical science ever learns to clone ensembles like this one, so much the better.
Track Listing: I Want to Be Happy; It
Personnel: Craig Raymond, leader, trumpet; Don Downs, Kevin Rodgers, Bill Posey, Tony DeSantis, Rick Gazda, trumpet, flugelhorn; Chuck Dressler, Brian Pastor, Mike Galan, trombone; Mike Purdy, Jose Vidal, bass trombone; Jeff Darrohn, Andrew Neu, alto sax; Rob Haffley, Bob Apgar, tenor sax; Mike Brignola, baritone sax; Pete Jackson, piano; Kevin MacConnell, bass; Tony Vigilante, drums; Lou Dottoli, vocals; Larry McKenna, featured tenor sax soloist.