Like the proverbial tree falling in an empty forest, if a big band plays but no one hears it, does it still make a sound? That's basically the story of the David Angel Big Band, which has been rehearsing nearly every week for well-nigh half a century but has been heard by almost no one until now. Angel, a saxophonist / arranger who has made a good living for many years "ghost-writing" music for television and films and teaching composition in the U.S. and Europe, formed his band in the mid-60s as a place for musicians to whet their chops and play the new charts he brought in every week. The intention was always to rehearse, not to perform in public or record, and the band has played only a handful of gigs during its long history. As for recording, Angel was persuaded in 1973 and again in 1975 to usher the ensemble into the Sage and Sound Studio in Hollywood to document some of its music, but there was never any plan to release the recordings to the public.
After sitting in a vault for many years, the master tapes eventually made their way to Peter Jacobson at VSOP Records who convinced Angel that the music was simply too good not to be heard. As the tapes were by then barely usable, transferring them to digital was a close call, but in the end it worked, and so, after years of silence, we now have Camshafts and Butterflies, the "debut" recording by the David Angel Big Band. So how is the music? Interesting, if at times less than emphatic or exciting, always accessible, often ahead of its time and, it goes without saying, flawlessly performed by Angel's company of world-class sidemen who in this case include saxophonists Bill Perkins, Bob Cooper and Jackie Kelso; trumpeters Hal Espinosa and Jack Coan, valve trombonist Bob Enevoldsen, bass trombonists Don Waldrop and Morris Repass, bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Chuck Flores.
After a relatively modest start, the album begins to take wing when tenor saxophonist Cooper makes his entrance on Track 3, "For B and D" (Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington), Angel's thinly disguised version of Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train." Fellow tenor Kelso uncorks another splendid solo, as does guitarist Charlie Meyerson. Perkins' alto is showcased on the aptly named ballad "Perk's Tune," which precedes Angel's vibrant portrait of his wife, "Lady Puttering," on which Perkins and Coan are the featured soloists. "Been Down So Long It Seems Like Up to Me" is one irrepressible groover that leads to another, "Easy Jive," on which Angel's alto sax is heard for the first time (he solos again on "One O'Clock Dump" and "Canadian Sunburst"). The always resourceful Enevoldsen (shades of Bob Brookmeyer) takes his only solo (alongside Meyerson, Kelso and trombonists Repass and David Dahlsten) on the swinging "Saturday Night at the Casa Tropical."
"One O'Clock Dump," not to be confused with the Count Basie classic of (almost) the same name, shows the ensemble at its fleet-fingered best, complementing double-quick solos by Angel, Cooper, pianist John Banister, bassist Bob Saravia and trumpeters Ron Gorow and Stuart Aptekar. Time changes, an indispensable weapon in Angel's compositional arsenal, arise again on "Canadian Sunburst," on which he solos with Kelso (on clarinet). From an historic standpoint alone, Camshafts and Butterflies is essential; the music therein makes it even more enticing.
Early Morning Fog / Early Morning Sunrise; Camshafts and Butterflies; For B and D; Perk’s Tune; Lady Puttering; Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me; Easy Jive; Saturday Night at the Casa Tropical; One O’Clock Dump; Canadian Sunburst.
September 1973 (Tracks 1-3, 5, 6, 10) —David Angel: leader, alto sax; Hal Espinoza: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jack Coan: trumpet, flugelhorn; Gray Rains: trumpet, flugelhorn; Bill Perkins: alto sax, flute; Jackie Kelso: tenor sax, clarinet; Bob Cooper: tenor sax, oboe, English horn); Steve Kravitz: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Bob Payne: trombone; David Dahlsten: trombone; Don Waldrop: bass trombone, tuba; Charlie Meyerson: guitar; Michel Mention: piano; Monty Budwig: bass; Chuck Flores: drums. February 1975 (Tracks 4, 7-9) —David Angel: leader, alto sax; Jack Coan: trumpet, flugelhorn; Stuart Aptekar: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ron Gorow: trumpet, flugelhorn; Bill Perkins: alto sax, flute; Jackie Kelso: tenor sax, clarinet; Bob Cooper: tenor sax, oboe, English horn; Steve Kravitz: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Bob Enevoldsen: valve trombone; David Dahlsten: trombone; Morris Repass: bass trombone; John Banister: piano; Charlie Meyerson: guitar; Bob Saravia: bass; Carl Rigoli: drums; Munyoungo Jackson: percussion.
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