In a world of unrestrained hyperbole, where competent athletes are superstars and slim, attractive women supermodels, words like awesome, spectacular, phenomenal, superlative and breathtaking are too often over-used and undeserved. But not in this case. On Eternal Licks and Grooves, the Bob Florence Limited Edition is awesome, its soloists spectacular, guest artists Carl Saunders, Scott Whitfield and Peter Erskine phenomenal, Florence's piano playing superlative, his compositions and arrangements breathtaking.
Florence, who recently turned seventy-five, has recorded more than a dozen big-band albums starting with Name Band 1959 (Carlton) and this may well be the best one yet. That's not hype; simply a fact. From "Eternal Licks and Grooves, commissioned to honor Count Basie, through "Appearing in Cleveland, his memorable salute to Stan Kenton, Florence operates with the unerring skill of a master surgeon, scrupulously appraising whole themes or fragments thereof and carefully splicing them together as only he can to produce fresh and exciting musical expositions.
About his buoyant arrangement of "Claire de Lune, Florence writes, "When I do an arrangement of a standard composition, I become the composer, an assertion that applies not only to Claude Debussy's classic work but to Bronislaw Kaper's "Invitation and Jerome Kern / Johnny Mercer's "I'm Old Fashioned, each of which glistens in Florence's capable hands. Besides "Grooves and "Cleveland, Florence wrote "Mirror Images and co-wrote "Guiding Star with Fred Manley.
Florence puts Whitfield to work immediately, and the trombonist responds with a blistering solo on "Grooves, complementing thermal statements by guitarist Larry Koonse, tenor Tom Peterson, trumpeter Larry Lunetta and drummer Erskine (who kicks the band relentlessly throughout). Florence's exquisite solo piano introduces "Claire de Lune, on which trumpeter Saunders is typically astonishing, even inserting a brief quote from "Autumn Serenade (if there's a better all-around trumpeter playing today, I've yet to hear him). The melodious "Mirror Images (denoting Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn) features Don Shelton's sensuous soprano sax, the lovely ballad "Guiding Star Bob Carr's supple baritone sax and Bob McChesney's satiny trombone.
As on "Claire de Lune, Florence adroitly states the melody on "Invitation and "Old Fashioned before gently but persistently taking the standards where he wants them to go. Florence, tenor Jeff Driskill, trumpeter Steve Huffsteter and bassist Trey Henry are showcased on the former, trombonist Alex Iles and alto Kim Richmond on the latter (Richmond's amiable solo is especially charming). The inspired soloists on "Cleveland are Florence, Koonse, baritone Bob Efford and trumpeter Ron Stout.
Truth be told, there's neither a weak spot nor false note on the album. At the risk of sounding, well, hyperbolic, one could easily make the case that Eternal Licks and Grooves is an unequivocal masterpiece. In the end, however, that's up to each listener to decide.
Eternal Licks & Grooves; Claire de Lune; Mirror Images; Guiding Star; Invitation; I
Bob Florence: composer, arranger, piano; Pete DeSiena: trumpet, flugelhorn; Lee Thornburg: trumpet, flugelhorn; Larry Lunetta: trumpet, flugelhorn; Steve Huffsteter: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ron Stout: trumpet, flugelhorn; Don Shelton: alto, soprano sax, clarinet; Kim Richmond: alto, soprano sax, clarinet; Jeff Driskill: tenor sax, clarinet; Tom Peterson: tenor sax, clarinet; Billy Kerr: tenor sax, clarinet; Bob Efford: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Bob Carr: baritone sax, e flat contra alto clarinet; Charlie Loper: trombone; Alex Iles: trombone; Bob McChesney: trombone; Craig Gosnell: bass trombone; Larry Koonse: guitar; Trey Henry: bass. Guests: Peter Erskine: drums; Carl Saunders: trumpet; Scott Whitfield: trombone.
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