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Ed Puddick Big Band / Frank Macchia / Rick Wald NY 16

Jack Bowers By

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Ed Puddick Big Band

Guys & Dolls

Diving Duck Records

2010

The late Frank Loesser wrote at least 700 songs, more than a dozen of which are included in the score for the smash musical Guys and Dolls, which, believe it or not, opened on Broadway more than sixty years ago, in 1950, with Alan Alda's father, Robert, in the leading role as the gambler Sky Masterson. To mark Loesser's centenary in 2010, British arranger Ed Puddick took a fresh look at the marvelous score for Guys and Dolls, modulated its natural syncopation and revitalized it for a 17-member big band.

One surprise is that the lion's share of the music is played at a slower tempo than in the original score; another is that Puddick's variations work quite well. The impression is almost as if Loesser had written these songs with jazz portrayals in mind. Fast, slow or medium, these are songs that enliven the senses and abide in the memory. Given such superb material to work with, it's hard for any arranger to miss the mark, and Puddick certainly doesn't. Nor does the ensemble, which is spot on throughout. Among the more felicitous touches: the deft use of French horn (Jim Rattigan, "Follow the Fold," "I'll Know," "Luck Be a Lady") tuba (Andy Lester, "Follow the Fold"), male chorus within the band ("Pet Me Poppa"), bass clarinet (Claire McInerney, "Adelaide's Lament"), unison trombones ("Guys and Dolls"), plunger-muted trumpet and clarinet (Percy Pursglove, Jim Crowley, "Luck Be a Lady").

The familiar melodies remain intact, as well they should, with Puddick adding warmth and color to the mix. The opening "Fugue for Tinhorns," taken at an uncommonly deliberate pace, showcases the band's able trumpet section: Pursglove, Nick Smart and Noel Langley. Pursglove returns on "Follow the Fold" and "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat," Smart on "The Oldest Established" and "If I Were a Bell," Langley on "Sue Me." The other first-rate soloists include Crowley (tenor on "The Oldest Established" and "Adelaide"), tenor Dan Faulkner, alto Sam Bullard, trombonists Simon Walker and Mike Feltham, guitarist Chris Allard, bassist Ryan Trebilcock and drummer Richard Barrett. Three songs ("Pet Me Poppa," "Adelaide," "A Woman in Love") were written by Loesser for the 1955 film version of the play, which starred Marlon Brando, of all people, as Sky Masterson (yes, he did his own singing, as did Jean Simmons as the Salvation Army's Sarah Brown).

Although Loesser also wrote the Pulitzer-prize winning play How to Succeed in Business and the operatic Most Happy Fella, Guys and Dolls remains his masterpiece. Even uncoupled from its fabulous lyrics, the score is powerful and persuasive, as is this engaging version by Ed Puddick's impressive big band.

Frank Macchia

Son of Folk Songs for Jazzers

Cacophony Records

2010

Frank Macchia is amazing. Just as it seems he has fired his last shot, the ever-resilient composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist regroups, reloads, takes careful aim and notches another clean bull's-eye. After scoring in 2010 with the breezy and colorful Folk Songs for Jazzers, Macchia decided to up the ante and double the listener's pleasure by producing Son of Folk Songs for Jazzers, as clever and amusing an offspring as could be envisioned.

With the inclusion of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," "Itsy Bitsy Spider," "This Old Man" and "Three Blind Mice" (twice), this could well be surnamed Nursery Rhymes for Jazzers. Be that as it may, Macchia's perceptive charts are squarely on the money, as usual, and his versatile 14-member ensemble helps make them shine like pure gold. As the personnel on both albums is the same (down to guest vocalists Ellis Hall and Tierney Sutton), there's a chance they could have been recorded at the same session or back-to-back (no dates are given). The only notable change is the addition of flutist Valarie King on all tracks (she appeared only on a bonus track, "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho," on the earlier album). As before, there is only one trumpet in the "section," but as it is Wayne Bergeron, that base is well-covered. The reed and wind players clearly earn their keep, with Sal Lozano and Bob Sheppard brandishing six instruments apiece, Jay Mason seven, Macchia eight (and singing—well, growling—on "This Old Man"). To underscore the concept of Son, that's Macchia's son Charlie posing (alto sax in hand) with his dad on the front and back covers.

The album opens with a Latin-inflected reading of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," on which everyone solos. Hall is up next, offering an earnest and bluesy vocal on "Careless Love." Pianist Tom Ranier is front and center on the lyrical waltz "Three Jazzy Blind Mice," which precedes the arduously constructed "Itsy Bitsy Spider" (solos by Sheppard on soprano sax and trombonist Alex Iles) and the first of three two-song medleys, "Pick a Bale of Cotton and "Shortnin' Bread" (on which drummer Peter Erskine sets the unerring compass, as he does on every number). Ranier solos again, after which Macchia and Sheppard trade shots on tenor). Sutton is smooth and sultry on the seldom-heard folk ballad, "Silver Dagger," and the ensemble excels on "Three Cool Blind Mice" (as Macchia writes, his "impression of Johnny Mandel and Duke Ellington collaborating on a tune"), which embraces even-tempered solos by King on bass flute, Grant Geissman on guitar.

There's a big-band vibe on the second medley, "Cindy" / "Li'l Liza Jane," with Erskine leading the charge behind forceful statements by Geissman, bass trombonist Bill Reichenbach, Sheppard (alto), Bergeron and Macchia (tenor). The venerable "Billy Boy" (which precedes "Frankie and Johnny" instead of following it; a correction is posted on the jacket), is a slow-paced feature for Iles, while "Frankie and Johnny," also taken at an unhurried tempo, brings to the fore Mason's baritone sax and Kevin Porter's muted trombone. Trey Henry's bass introduces "This Old Man," whose resonance is underlined by Macchia's gravelly voice and rumbling low notes by Sheppard (bass clarinet), Lozano (contra alto clarinet), Mason and Macchia (contra bass clarinet). The closer, and final medley, pairs "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" in a seaworthy craft that showcases Reichenbach on bass trumpet, vibraphonist Michael Hatfield, Sheppard on tenor and King on piccolo grooving to a New Orleans-style beat that leads to a powerful finishing kick.

While Folk Songs for Jazzers was indeed a tough act to follow, this is one Son who has lived up to his promise and made his "father" proud.

Rick Wald 16 / NYC

Play That Thing

Glowbow Records

2010

If you're in the mood for big band jazz with a twist—make that a lot of twists, not to mention unanticipated turns—this second album by composer and arranger Rick Wald's 16 / NYC should tickle your ivories and set your heart aflutter. Wald says he likes to suggest "moods" when composing, and the moods here range from sociable to somber with a number of unforeseen detours along the way. That's true not only of Wald's five originals but his fresh looks at Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage," Wayne Shorter's "Prince of Darkness" and the venerable Swing Era staple, "Stompin' at the Savoy," each of which is spruced up by Wald's resourceful eye and ear.

Despite the presence of "Savoy," there's no Count Basie-style swing on these premises, nor are there any spine-tingling shout choruses. The closest the ensemble comes to spreading its wings is on the up-tempo "Gonna Getcha," but even here the impression is one of studiously controlled intensity rather than unbridled power. "Savoy" is more waltz going on foxtrot than flag-waver, while "Maiden Voyage" and "Prince of Darkness" are taken at a considerably slower pace than is usually the norm. "Play That Thing" is quirkily animated, with brisk ad libs by pianist Ted Kooshian, alto Lou Marini and drummer Jeff Brillinger, while Kooshian, trombonist Noah Bless, tenor Adam Kolker and baritone Terry Goss are suitably articulate on the scampering "Gonna Getcha." In the liner notes, Wald writes that the 16 / NYC is "the best band I've ever had," a sentiment that is readily confirmed by the presence of blue-chip sidemen in every chair. Play That Thing was recorded, he writes, "live, with no over-dubs." The sound is clear and well-defined, and there are no audible lapses or missteps.

As to the music, that's a matter of personal taste. It's explicitly challenging, and those who'd prefer to be washed along on a tidal wave of turbulence and tension may find Wald's provocative charts less than persuasive, whereas the more serious listener should find them consistently rewarding. Wald is well-versed in the use of color and dynamics, and the ensemble readily masters every nuance. Unison passages are hermetic, soloists lucid and admirable. Besides those already named, they include trumpeters John Eckert and Jack Walrath, trombonists Art Baron and Sam Burtis, alto Loren Stillman, tenor Ted Nash and bassist Chip Jackson. Wald contributes a forceful alto solo on his lyrical composition, "Quascau."

Those who've heard the group's debut album, Castaneda's Dance, will know basically what to expect from Play That Thing. Those who haven't may be pleasantly surprised by their introduction to Rick Wald and his accomplished sixteen-member ensemble.

Brooks Tegler Big Band

That's It!

Maxngruber Records

2010

That's It!, drummer Brooks Tegler's first recording as leader of his own band, is a tenaciously swinging, smile-inducing salute to some of the big-band giants who helped define the genre, with each of the session's 18 tracks devoted to the music of Basie, Benny Carter, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Gene Krupa, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw or Duke Ellington. Eschewing for the most part the better-known numbers from their books, Tegler and the band remind listeners who weren't fortunate enough to have been alive during the Big Band Era why these and other bands were so enormously popular, drawing sellout audiences to their concerts and other performances on a nightly basis in cities and towns from coast to coast, and why their music continues to be performed so many years after the big bands supposedly died.

The album's freewheeling opener and title selection is a tribute to the Dorsey band, as is Bill Finnegan's melodic "Pussy Willow." Herman is represented by his groovy "Ingie Speaks" and Shorty Rogers' scampering "Keeper of the Flame," Goodman by "If Dreams Come True" and "Goodnight My Love," the latter nicely sung by Lynn McCune who is also heard on "I Have Eyes" from the Artie Shaw library. Jim Stephanson is the vocalist on "Now I Know" (Miller) and "Alright, Okay, You Win" (Basie). The Count earns three citations in all ("John's Idea" and "Sweetie Cakes" are the others), as does the Duke ("Jack the Bear," "Hiya Sue," "Such Sweet Thunder"). Earnest salutes to Benny Carter ("Slow Freight"), Miller ("SNAFU Jump") and Krupa ("Gypsy Mood") complete the handsome program. If there's no Gene Krupa in Tegler's band, there's at least a Jen Krupa (no relation that we know of; she's from Canada), a stalwart member of the trombone section who solos on the three tributes to Ellington.

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