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DIVA Jazz Orchestra / Paul Read Orchestra / Andy Farber and His Orchestra

Jack Bowers By

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DIVA Jazz Orchestra

Johnny Mandel: The Man and His Music

Arbors Jazz

2010

Note to NARAS members: please do not cast your vote for Best Big Band Album of 2011 without first having listened to Johnny Mandel: The Man and His Music, recorded in concert at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in Manhattan by the superlative DIVA Jazz Orchestra with guest vocalist Ann Hampton Callaway. Great as the band is on every number, Callaway almost steals the show on "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" and "Ain't Nobody's Business," both with DIVA, and Mandel's heart-rending "Where Do You Start," accompanying herself at the piano. What a fantastic singer she is! As icing on the cake, if indeed any were needed, the conductor for the occasion is none other than Johnny Mandel himself who provides the narrative framework for a number of his memorable songs including "Close Enough for Love," "Emily," the "Theme from M*A*S*H" and "The Shadow of Your Smile."

Emcee Todd Barkan introduces Mandel as "one of the greatest composers and arrangers that American music has ever been graced by," a sentiment that almost no one would impugn, as his remarkable body of work speaks clearly for itself. Besides the tunes already mentioned, DIVA quenches a pair of Mandel's incendiary jazz compositions, "Low Life" (written for the Count Basie Orchestra) and the classic "Not Really the Blues" (penned for Woody Herman's renowned Second Herd). Mandel also wrote the zesty "Cinnamon and Clove" along with two jazz-based excerpts, "Black Nightgown" and the main theme music, from the film "I Want to Live!" and arranged "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," "Ain't Nobody's Business" and drummer Tiny Kahn's propulsive "TNT." DIVA nails each one as handily as a carpenter assembling a rampart.

The orchestra's peerless leader, drummer Sherrie Maricle, is a pinnacle of strength and stability throughout, as are her section mates, pianist Tomoko Ohno, bassist Noriko Ueda and guitarists Sheryl Bailey or Dida Pelled. Brass and reeds are exemplary, even without the presence of a number of stalwarts who have moved on to bigger and better things since DIVA was founded in 1992. The album is dedicated to the late Stanley Kay, a onetime "assistant drummer" for the incomparable Buddy Rich who died shortly after it was recorded. It was Kay whose vision of an all-female band led to DIVA's formation and whose friendship with Mandel enabled the composer to become aware of DIVA's impressive talents and to record this extraordinary album with the orchestra.

Having mentioned the various sections, it should be noted that DIVA boasts a number of splendid soloists, most of whom are given at least one chance to shine. Among the standouts are tenors Janelle Reichman (whose clarinet enhances "Close Enough for Love") and Leigh Pilzer, trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis ("The Shadow of Your Smile"), alto Sharel Cassity ("Cinnamon and Clove"), baritone Nicki and Lisa Parrott (sitting in for Gerry Mulligan on "I Want to Live!"), Reichman and pianist Ohno ("Theme from M*A*S*H"). Eleven members of the band spread their wings and fly on "TNT"—Cassity, Noodhuis, Parrott, Reichman, trumpeters Tanya Darby, Jami Dauber and Christine Fawson, trombonists Deborah Weisz, Jennifer Krupa and Sara Jacovino, and alto Lynn Gruenwald. Bailey, Dauber, Reichman and Pilzer are out front on "Low Life," Reichman, Krupa and Pilzer on "Not Really the Blues." Among many highlights, that flag-waver stands above the rest, courtesy of Mandel's great writing and the spirit and power of the ensemble and soloists.

DIVA, which already has half a dozen impressive albums to its credit, has produced another unequivocal winner with Johnny Mandel: The Man and His Music. To be candid, having started with those basic ingredients and added the electrifying voice of Ann Hampton Callaway, the outcome was never in doubt.

Paul Read Orchestra

Arc-en-ciel

Addo Records

2010

With the Boss Brass gone and trombonist Dave McMurdo's orchestra not as active as it once was, composer / educator Paul Read has stepped forward to help temper Canada's big band void with Arc-en-ciel, the inaugural recording by the Paul Read Jazz Orchestra, whose sidemen number no less than half a dozen Boss Brass / McMurdo alumni. Read's compositions, while lyrical and good-natured, are by no means lacking in strength or substance. Every element is carefully planned, the charts snuggle or swing as needed, and the orchestra performs each one with alacrity and awareness.

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