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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

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