Big Bands From Around the World: Bennetts Lane Big Band, Jim Galloway's Wee Big Band & The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra

Ken Dryden By

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Bennetts Lane Big Band
The Snip
ABC Jazz

Jim Galloway's Wee Big Band
Blue Reverie

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard
Planet Arts

It's hard for most big bands to keep going over the long haul, but three have had some success, even though it is still a challenge. The Bennetts Lane Big Band, formed in 2002, is based in Melbourne, Australia and records for a local label, so they are likely unfamiliar to many American listeners. Soprano saxophonist Jim Galloway, a native of Scotland who has lived in Canada for decades, organized his Wee Big Band 30 years ago. The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, a descendant of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra of the mid '60s, has continued since Lewis' death in 1990 under its present name.

The Bennetts Lane Big Band consists of a number of Australia's top jazz musicians. Sparse distribution and publicity of the country's ABC (Australian Broadcasting Co.) Jazz label is hardly reason not to investigate their work. Band members contributed each of the nine originals on The Snip and though the sessions took place not long after the band was first organized in 2002, the musicians rose to the demands of the new music by their cohorts. The influence of Monk is readily apparent in bass trombonist Adrian Sheriff's quirky "Blues For Lambie," a chugging vehicle filled with humorous solos. Trumpeter Eugene Ball penned the lush ballad "A Boy in A-Hus" and the extended piece "Spherical Suite," which is full of rich voicings behind the soloists. Pianist Andrea Keller wrote "Dreaming the Glorified Bass Player," a hip samba built with brass and reeds swirling around the catchy bass clarinet vamp. Reed player Ian Whitehurst's "Gonk" blends elements of bop and big band swing in a boisterous up-tempo setting.

Jim Galloway is usually pegged as a traditional jazz specialist, though he is quite at home playing swing. On his third Wee Big Band CD Blue Reverie, the soprano saxophonist mostly concentrates on swing tunes performed from charts by their composers, or in some cases, scores transcribed by either guitarist Martin Loomer or reed player Merlin Williams. Galloway opens with a twist, playing Jaki Byard's "Aluminum Baby," one of the pianist's less eclectic tunes. The Ellington/ Strayhorn songbook is represented by the dreamy ballad "Isfahan" with alto saxophonist Gordon Evans channeling a bit of Johnny Hodges lyrical vibrato, while trumpeter John MacLeod salutes Cootie Williams with his sassy playing in "Ridin' on a Blue Note." George Williams, who wrote extensively for Jimmie Lunceford, wrote the swinger "High Five," showcasing pianist Ralph Fraser and trombonist Laurie Bower's greasy muted solo. Galloway doesn't take a lot of solos, but he makes his presence felt with brief contributions to a swinging rendition of Benny Carter's "Symphony in Riffs" and Chico O'Farrill's peppy setting of the oldie "Chicago." Sadly, this was the final live recording made at the late lamented Montreal Jazz Bistro in Toronto, but the warm acoustics will rekindle the magic of the now-shuttered club for anyone who ever attended a show there.

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra has long been regarded as a musician's band, drawing some of New York City's top players. Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard, a two-disc set recorded over two nights in early 2008 finds the group in top form. Most of the music was written and/or arranged by Thad Jones, with at least one piece, the late trumpeter's brilliant "Mean What You Say," painstakingly transcribed for the set. Jones' "The Waltz You Swang For Me" rolls along with a bit of gospel undercurrent. His treatment of Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" has also stood the test of time very well. Band alum Bob Brookmeyer's creative scoring of "St. Louis Blues" begins in an eerie manner before turning into a brisk swinger, showcasing Luis Bonilla's expressive trombone while his deliberate chart of Fats Waller's "Willow Tree" features trumpeter Terell Stafford and bassist Phil Palombi. Jim McNeely, who has served as the band's leader, pianist (Michael Weiss takes his chair on several numbers) and composer-in-residence, revives his never-recorded "Las Cucarachas Entran," an infectious Latin number with its title inspired by the Spanish advertising for the Roach Motel. Jerry Dodgion (like Brookmeyer, a founding member of the Jones-Lewis band back in 1966), arranged the standard "Body and Soul," a feature for Gary Smulyan's lush baritone sax. Sadly, longtime bassist Dennis Irwin was too ill to take part and died a month after these recordings were made.

Tracks and Personnel

The Snip

Tracks: Blues for Lambie; Spherical Suite; Boy in A-Hus; The Creep; Dreaming the Glorified Bass Player; Foot; Gonk; Requiem for a Parking Attendant; The Snip.

Personnel: Tim O'Dwyer, Jamie Ohlers, Ian Whitehirst, Adam Simmons: reeds; Damien Maughan,Eugene Ball: trumpets; Jordan Murray: trumbone; Andrea Keller: piano Adrian Sherriff: bass trombone; Nick Heywood: bass; Danny Fischer: drums

Blue Reverie

Tracks: Aluminum Baby; Beauty Rest; Fiesta In Blue; High Five; Isfahan; One on the House; Symphony in Riffs; Blue Reverie; Chicago; Stranger On the Shore; Ridin' On a Blue Note; Someone; Send in the Clowns; If You Were the Only Girl in the World; It's Sand Man.

Personnel: Jim Galloway: soprano sax; Alex Kundakicioglu: trumpet; Dave Johnston: trumpet; John MacLeod: trumpet; Brigham Phillips: trumpet; Laurie Bower: trombone; Scott Suttie: trombone; Michael Lawson: trombone; Gordon Evans: reeds; Gary Soles: alto sax, clarinet; Dave Caldwell: reeds; Kira Payne: tenor sax, clarinet; Merlin Williams: baritone sax, bass clarinet, clarinet; Ralph Frazier: piano; Martin Loomer: electric guitar; Rosemary Galloway: bass; Don Vickrey: drums.

Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard

Tracks: Mean What You Say; Say It Softly; St. Louis Blues; Body and Soul; Mornin' Reverend; Las Cucarachas Entran; Willow Tree; Don't You Worry 'bout a Thing; Kids Are Pretty People; The Waltz You Swang For Me; Little Rascal on a Rock.

Personnel: Nick Marchione: trumpet; Frank Greene: trumpet; Terell Stafford: trumpet; Scott Wendholt: trumpet; John Mosca: trombone; Luis Bonilla: trombone; Jason Jackson: trombone; Douglas Purviance: bass trombone; Dick Oatts: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, piccolo; Billy Drewes: alto and soprano saxophones, flute, clarinet; Rich Perry; tenor saxophone, flute; Ralph LaLama: tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute; Gary Smulyan: baritone saxophone; Jim McNeely: piano; John Riley: drums; Phil Palombi: bass; Michael Weiss: piano (on Mean What You Say, St. Louis Blues, Mornin' Reverend, Kids Are Pretty People, The Waltz You Swang For Me); John Clark: French horn (on Las Cucarachas Entran).


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