The Bob Florence Limited Edition appeared at the Jazz Bakery in Culver City, California on big band night, Monday evening, October 25, 2004. Although the venue is not ideal for listening to big bands (its small size causes some loud passages to be rather muddy and indistinct), Florence's arranging, and the band's excellence, make them worth the experience in virtually any environment. Both brass and reed sections include some of the very best in the business, while the band has played together long enough to develop genuine character and ensemble. Florence's reed accompaniments (four clarinets, bass clarinet, and contrabass clarinet), for instance, are sheer delight; the dense tonal colors he paints are nearly visual in their intensity.
The crowd, as unfortunately is often the case, was small in size, but it made up in enthusiasm what it lacked in numbers. The presence of quite a few students was a pleasant surprise, and the low-pressure ambience, plus the generally relaxed atmosphere and laid-back demeanor of the musicians, created an almost "jam-session" or "rehearsal" environment.
The band kicked off with a lovely but complex arrangement of Bronislaw Kaper's "Invitation"; soloists were tenor saxophonists Jeff Driscoll and Tom Peterson and jazz trumpeters Ron Stout and Steve Huffsteter. Florence's hauntingly beautiful piano introduction heralded Johnny Mandel's "Emily," with a stellar trumpet solo by newcomer Larry Lanetta and the bittersweet flugelhorn of Huffsteter; "Emily" is a remarkable ballad whose poignancy is made even more breathtaking by Florence's arranging.
Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge" featured the warm and melodious solo trombone of Charlie Loper, counterbalanced by the pyrotechnics of trombonist Bob McChesney. Florence then gave the horns a chance to rest their chops while he played a piano solo, a surprising, slow, ethereal reading of Cahn and Van Heusen's "Come Fly With Me," whose bridge in fact took us "up there, where the air is rarified'" The first set closed with Florence's original, "Appearing in Cleveland," featuring baritone saxophonist Bob Efford and guitarist Larry Koonse, another newcomer to the group, which now numbers nineteen. The composition was alive with sparkling Stan Kentonisms, from "Artistry in Rhythm" and "Concerto To End All Concertos," to name a couple. Explaining the derivation of the tune's title, Florence related a tale of the past, when Stan Kenton was being interviewed by KFAC disc jockey Gene Norman. In stentorian tones, the latter asked the former, "So, Stan, where do you think jazz is headed?" "Well," Kenton retorted, "next Thursday, we're appearing in Cleveland'"
Following an intermission, the band came back for a second set, which opened with the little-known Strayhorn composition, "Kissing Bug"; soloists included Don Shelton (formerly of the Hi-Lo's and Singer's Unlimited) on alto sax and Koonse on guitar. Another Florence original, the frantic "Chasing Monk," spotlighted Kim Richmond (alto sax), Efford (baritone sax), Alex Iles (trombone), Huffsteter (trumpet), and the four playing counterpoint, in one of the evening's highlights.
From the Grammy Award-winning album Serendipity 18
, the aggregation next recapped the second emotion (in E) from Florence's "Three Emotions," featuring baritone saxophonists the Bobs Carr and Efford; trumpeter Stout's solo was so big, round and beautiful, I couldn't believe he wasn't playing a flugelhorn. The concert ended with "Never Let Me Go" by Raymond Evans and Jay Livingston, with a solo by bassist for the evening Kevin Axt, another choice improvisation by Koonse, the aforementioned clarinet choir, and more heartfelt emoting on trumpet by Ron Stout. At its conclusion, we overheard Florence say to the band, in a voice thick with wonder, " You know how many times we've played this? I think I really heard it this evening, for the very first time. And for that, I thank you." It was a touching moment.
Musicians in the band not previously mentioned included Wayne Bergeron and Mike McGuffey, who traded lead trumpet responsibilities; the bass trombonist Bryant Byers, a solid foundation as turbulent winds blew overhead; and drummer Dick Weller, whose rock-solid tempos not only drove the ensemble, but whose frequent brief, dramatic solos provided the luster of brilliance that so characterizes this group. The band's most recent CD is Whatever Bubbles Up
on the Summit label, which contains "Chelsea Bridge," "Kissing Bug," and "Never Let Me Go" from this evening's sets.