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Whit Williams Now's the Time Big Band: Featuring Slide Hampton and Jimmy Heath

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Here's more proof of the vitality of the regional jazz scene around this country. Veteran saxophonist and jazz educator Whit Williams began this big band in Baltimore in 1981 and over the years it has accompanied Aretha Franklin and played Ellington's "Night Creature" with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Here guests Jimmy Heath (tenor sax) and Slide Hampton (trombone) also contribute four and three (respectively) of the ten charts on the CD. Tenor saxophonist Gary Thomas and alto saxophonist Charlie Young are also credited as guest soloists.

A rundown of solos by track would have been nice, but since the featured tenor sax on Heath's "Losing Game" doesn't sound like the composer or Thomas, we can assume it's Williams. The tune—a kissing cousin of Harry Warren's "This Is Always"—is a model of the classic big band ballad frame/showcase for a tenor saxophonist. Unless Young also plays baritone sax, the solo on Heath's Latin swinger, "This Is What It Is," credited to him in the notes, is probably also by Williams, since it shares the robust vibrato of the "Losing Game" tenor lead. Matching the quality of the guests' solos are those from the band, especially the trumpets, both the uncredited one on Williams' "I Remember Tangle" and Don Junker's on Hampton's cubistic chart of Monk's "Little Rootie Tootie."

Three of Heath's four arrangements (and one of Hampton's) have AfroLatin accents, including time shifts in and out of 4/4 swing on "Without You, No Me," all executed admirably by the big band. It sounds equally accomplished negotiating Hampton's complexities, which include bouncing ball theme tosses across sections, rhythm dropouts and extended preludes and interludes. As the Michelin Guide might say of a restaurant, worthy of a side trip to hear.

Track Listing: This Is What It Is; Una Mas; I Remember Tangle; Losing Game; Without You, No Me; The Radiator Man Is Well; A Day in Copenhagen; Diana; Get Home Before Dark; Little Rootie Tootie.

Personnel: Personnel: Whit Williams: leader, composer, arranger, reeds; Don Junker, Joe Palonzo, Michael Thomas, Eli Asher: trumpet; Jimmy Battallata, Jimmy Kearns, Russel Kirk: alto sax; Howard Burns: tenor sax; Gary Thomas: tenor sax, flute; Steve Swann: baritone sax; Jay Gibble, Richard Ore, Bill Holmes: trombone; Bernie Robier: bass trombone; Charlie Etsel: piano; Earnest Barnes: bass; Harold Summey: drums. Special guests: Slide Hampton: trombone; Jimmy Heath: tenor sax; Charlie Young: alto sax.

Title: Featuring Slide Hampton and Jimmy Heath | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Summit Records

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