As there is scarcely a clue anywhere on By Request
as to who may have asked for these songs, it's fun to presume (whether true or not) that the album's title denotes bandleader Mike Barone's tongue-in-cheek response to those bemused inebriates who, legend has it, sometimes stagger up to bandstands shouting, "Play 'Melancholy Baby'! Indeed, "My Melancholy Baby is the opening number, and the next time some besotted bystander pleads for its resurrection, I hope the maestro is savvy enough to choose Barone's stylish arrangement, which is far and away the most pleasurable ride that decrepit warhorse has ever experienced.
How one leapfrogs so nimbly from "Melancholy Baby to Spyro Gyra's neo-rockin' "No Man's Land confounds reason, but Barone, quintessential time traveler that he is, disavows any musical boundaries and simply charges into the breach, using his vast insight and experience as an unerring compass. After revisiting "Peachy, one of his closing themes for Doc Severinsen's Tonight Show band (Barone wrote more than 300 compositions and/or arrangements for the band from 1967-92), it's back to 1914 for a cleverly reupholstered version of the pre-World War I favorite, "Five Foot Two. (In the interest of full disclosure, Barone mentions in the liner notes that this writer informed himtoo late to amend on the CDthat the song's "actual name is "Has Anybody Seen My Gal? ).
Besides the gentle "Peachy, Barone wrote "Slide-O, "Elkhart (based on "Indiana, natch), the soulful "Tobiasse (for painter Theo Tobiasse), the happily quirky "Mr. Magu and the closing Barone Brothers medley ("Song for Our Father, "Other Happy Moments, "Almost Blues, all recorded in 1979 by Barone and brother Gary for the Palo Alto album Blues and Other Happy Moments). Completing the session is "While You Are Gone, a "bebop ballad composed by saxophonist Lucky Thompson and recorded in the 1950s by the Four Freshmen.
This is Barone's third album in as many years, and each one has been a strong contender for any big band enthusiast's Record of the Year, thanks in large measure to the leader's superlative charts, which seldom fail to grab the listener by the ears and compel his / her ardent endorsement. To play those charts, Barone has enlisted sixteen of the most accomplished sidemen in southern California, many of whom earned their stripes in bands fronted by such hallowed leaders as Herman, Kenton, Ferguson, Rich, Bellson, Bob Florence, Gerald Wilson and others. Barone solos once, on "Melancholy Baby. Altoist Kim Richmond is showcased on "Slide-O, trumpeter Bob Summers on "Peachy and "Song for Our Father," tenor saxophonist Vince Trombetta on "While You Are Gone and fellow tenor Ernie Watts on "Mr. Magu. The rhythm section is resolute and resourceful.
Once more, Mike Barone has produced an exhilarating big band album, one that surely must be counted among the year's best. And one more change is noticeably clear, at least to this eavesdropper: "Melancholy Baby will never sound quite the same again.
Mike Barone: leader, composer, arranger, trombone soloist (1); Lee Thornburg: trumpet; Pete DeSiena: trumpet; Bob Summers: trumpet; Mark Lewis: trumpet; Kim Richmond: alto sax; Keith Bishop: alto sax; Ernie Watts: tenor sax; Vince Trombetta: tenor sax; Brian Williams: baritone sax; Charlie Loper: trombone; Dick Hamilton: trombone; Bill Booth: trombone; Craig Gosnell: bass trombone; John Proulx: piano; Joel Hamilton: bass; Paul Kreibich: drums.