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Birdland Big Band, New York, NY. December 28, 2011

Ernest Barteldes By

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The Birdland Big Band directed by Tommy Igoe
Birdland
New York, NY
December 28, 2011

On a chilly Wednesday night in December, drummer and bandleader Tommy Igoe directed the fifteen-piece Birdland Big Band as part of its weeklong headlining residence at the club the group has been calling home since its inception in 2005. The ensemble kicked off the set with an intriguing piece that shifted tempos, going from swing to blues, depending on who was soloing. The tune started directly, with alto saxophonist Nathan Childers' solo, moving on to the other members and finally ending with an extended feature for bassist Tom Kennedy, who shifted between upright and five-string electric throughout the set.

The band tackled different styles during the evening, going from New Orleans marching band-style stomps (minus the marching), to samba jazz and tango. Highlights included pianist Chick Corea's "Armando's Rhumba," which featured fluent solos from Childers and trumpeter Glenn Drewes, as well as a very up-tempo number that featured Kennedy, whose dexterous and fast solo had the entire room—including many of the musicians on the stand—mesmerized at his technique.

Things slowed down a bit for guitarist Mike Stern's "Common Ground," a tune that featured pianist Kenny Ascher. Though originally written for guitar, the tune was well-adapted for big band, and was both a fine vehicle and a great opportunity to cool off a bit after three fast numbers. The evening closed with a rendition of Joe Zawinul's "Birdland," which opened, again, with Childers soloing, followed by several other band members. Kennedy seemed to follow Jaco Pastorius' original bass line on Weather Report's Heavy Weather (Columbia, 1977) faithfully, but contributed his own nuances and personal touches. The number ended with an extended solo from Igoe, who played with great energy and closed the set with great gusto.

There was great chemistry among the musicians, but that was even more noticeable when concentrating on Kennedy and Igoe. They smiled at each other all the time, especially when there was an unexpected riff or lick—something that can only happen when musicians have played with each other for a very long time. It was a highly enjoyable set, and the only negative thing was being unable to stay for the second set, since all tables were sold out.

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