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The Phil Norman Tentet: Encore

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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Harkening back and reverently genuflecting to the mid-size ensemble format of the 1950s and '60s—especially those on the West Coast such as the Dave Pell Octet, Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool (Capitol 1957) band and other similar-sized ensembles— the Phil Norman Tentet's Encore delivers the absolute best of all jazz worlds.

This is an aggregation and performance that, regardless of size, has everything, including some of jazz's finest players, composers and arrangers, all combining to deliver a classic, swinging, bravura performance. The playing, writing and soloing—absolutely everything about Encore—is superb.

Interestingly, six of the CD's ten cuts are well-worn jazz standards given fresh and intelligent covers by first-tier arrangers including Alan Broadbent, Roger Neumann and Christian Jacob. Their collective charts perfectly leverage the Tentet's size—eleven, actually, including leader Norman—instrumentation, ensemble playing and soloing. The performers are admirably up to the challenge laid down by these sophisticated, involving arrangements.

Simultaneously combining the small group and big band sounds, Broadbent's superb "Sonny's Step," Rusty Higgins' reworked and very hip "Stompin' at the Savoy," and pianist Christian Jacob's galloping "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" all stand out. These and the other cuts offer up exciting playing and "what's-coming-next?" listening.

Lead trumpeter Carl Saunders is a firebrand as always, his impeccable phrasing dynamically leading the group on "Bernie's Tune." His soloing—channeling the Pell Octet's Don Fagerquist—with the always inventive Ron Stout on "Billie's Bounce"— is a highlight of the set. Trombonist Scott Whitfield and woodwind stars Rusty Higgins and Roger Neumann also offer outstanding solo forays, demonstrating their prodigious chops. Christian Jacob—so tasteful on Broadbent's beautiful "Mendocino Nights"—headlines a stellar rhythm section that, in conjunction with Saunders, drives and supports all without drawing unnecessary attention away from the total tonal picture.

Perhaps the jazz ensemble of eight, nine or ten pieces will continue to thrive as economies drive larger ensembles to constrict or become extinct. If that be the case, as long as Phil Norman retains this fine stable of players and writers, there will certainly be plenty of encores for them.

Track Listing: Sonny's Step; In Your Own Sweet Way; Bernie's Tune; Surrey with the Fringe on Top; A Waltz for You Know Who; Stompin' at the Savoy; Dear Mr. Florence; The Touch of Your Lips; Mendocino Nights; Billie's Bounce.

Personnel: Phil Norman: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Rusty Higgins: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute; Roger Neumann: baritone saxophone; Carl Saunders: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ron Stout: trumpet, flugelhorn; Scott Whitfield: trombone; Christian Jacob: piano; Larry Koonse: guitar (1, 2, 5, 8-10); Tom Rizzo: guitar (3, 4, 6, 7); Kevin Axt: bass; Dick Weller: drums; Brad Dutz: percussion.

Title: Encore | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: MAMA Records

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