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I’d forgotten what a marvelous piece of work the late Johnny Richards’ Cuban Fire suite is, and am grateful to Bobby Lamb and the intrepid young musicians at Trinity College for such an emphatic reminder. Lamb, an Irish–born trombonist who once played in the Stan Kenton Orchestra and remains a great admirer of Kenton’s music, chose to honor his former employer by breathing new life into Richards’ seven–part suite based on such traditional Cuban rhythms as the bolero, abierta, guajira, guaracha and ñañigo. The Trinity band offers an admirable interpretation of the score, masterfully supported by three of Great Britain’s leading Jazz soloists, alto saxophonist Peter King, trombonist Mark Nightingale and trumpeter Gerard Presencer. While Kenton is certainly a tough act to follow, Lamb’s undergrads give it their best shot, and there are passages, such as on “Quien Sabe” or “La Suerte de los Tontos,” that sound, at least to me, even better than Kenton’s original recording. That could, of course, be the result of a rapidly declining memory. There’s no doubt, however, about the fact that King, Nightingale and Presencer are about as good as any soloists you’re likely to hear, or that the Trinity ensemble never sounds the least bit shaky or undernourished, its core group augmented by five French horns and half a dozen percussionists. As the suite itself runs for less than forty–two minutes, Lamb has appended two “bonus“ tracks, Juan Tizol’s well–traveled “Caravan,” on which Presencer and Nightingale solo, and his own composition, “Little One,” a bracing showcase for King’s incisive alto. Whether or not you’ve heard (or own a copy of) Kenton’s recording of Cuban Fire, you should hearken to Trinity’s exciting new version. You won’t be disappointed.
Track Listing: Fuego Cubano; El Congo Valiente; Recuerdos; Quien Sabe; La Guera Baila; La Suerte de Los Tontos; Tres Corazones; Caravan; Little One (52:38).
Personnel: Bobby Lamb, director; Rupert Widdows, Melanie van Aurich, alto sax; Fiona McGregor, Victoria Green, tenor sax; Claire McInerney, baritone sax; Gavin Whitlock, bass sax; Steve Jones, Darren Wiles, Dave Peers, Joe Auckland, Nick Etwell, Ben Cummings, Ian Taylor, Mike O