doesn't signify that the venerable California-based composer / arranger Mike Barone
has gone Latin; it simply means that "Brazil" is the opening number and the name Barone chose for the latest in his long-running series of remarkable big-band albums. No matter, as a Barone recording by any other name would be every inch as inspired and exciting, thanks in large measure to his unerring control of the vehicle, not to mention his invariably radiant and resourceful charts.
Among Barone's more impressive talents is his ability to pour gasoline on a raging fire without burning the house down. His resonant charts swing hard and often but never lack direction or purpose, which is a natural result of expertise (Barone is a master of his craft) and experience (he has spent more than half a century mapping out big-band arrangements including many that were written for Doc Severinsen
's splendid Tonight Show
orchestra). Barone knows precisely where he is going at any given moment as well as the best way to get there, whether the song is one of his own or a theme by Sting, Michael Brecker
, the Beatles or Cole Porter.
There aren't many better ways to set an album on the right path than with "Brazil," an irrepressible samba written in 1939 (as "Aquelara do Brasil") by Ary Barroso and popularized three years later in the Walt Disney film Saludos Amigos.
Barone's arrangement is typically powerful and persuasive, embracing muscular solos by baritone saxophonist Tim McKay
and pianist Sam Hirsh
. Sting's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," a more playful but no less dynamic chart (agile solo courtesy of alto Dan Kaneyuki
), is followed by "Animation," the first of two enticing compositions by the late pianist Cedar Walton
(the other is "Jacobs Ladder"), Barone's roaring "Big Bear" and frolicsome "No Got Rhythm," wherein he breathes new life into the most basic jazz changes in the book. Tenor Michael Czaja
solos on "Animation," Hirsh and alto Glen Garrett
on "Big Bear," trumpeter Josh Aguiar
(outstanding!) and tenor Jesse McGinty
(hanging close) on "No Got Rhythm."
Kaneyuki and Hirsh deliver ardent solos on "Rhubarb," Barone's whisker-raising salute to his "favorite dearly departed cat," before the leader reaches into his seemingly bottomless bag of dust-covered standards from the '30s and beyond to not merely redeem Porter's naughty sermon from 1938, "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," but to make it sound as newly-minted as almost any song being written today. Kaneyuki shines again, this time on soprano, as does Hirsh. Barone's melodious "Nathan Nysore" (solo by tenor Czaja), described vaguely as "Nathan had an eyesore that turned into a Nysore," precedes Brecker's crisp and colorful "Both Sides of the Coin" (McGinty, tenor) and the tasteful finale, Barone's "Mellow Bug Riffs," a spacious medley of several of the Beatles' more popular tunes on which McGinty and Hirsh solo again with a dazzling uncredited trumpeter, perhaps Aguiar.
Yes, Barone's praises have been sung here many times before; even so, Brazil
certainly affords no reason to stop singing them now. This is yet another eloquent and persuasive entry in the impressive Barone catalog, a big band tour de force
whose meticulous planning and exemplary arranging complement an outstanding performance by the ensemble. In sum, a pleasurable listening experience that is worth savoring many times over. Five stars? That's always a judgment call. Listen carefully and decide for yourself.
Brazil; Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic; Animation; Big Bear; No Got Rhythm;
Jacobs Ladder; Rhubarb; My Heart Belongs to Daddy; Nathan Nysore; Both Sides of the
Coin; Mellow Bug Riffs.