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From Charlie Christian to Charlie Parker


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It's not often one has a chance to see and hear a dozen of New Mexico's premier jazz musicians together onstage (or almost so) for a single concert, but that is what took place August 11 as an overflow audience welcomed the Charlie Christian Project and SuperSax New Mexico to the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History near Old Town. Both groups were enhanced by the presence of trumpet master (and Albuquerque native) Bobby Shew whose playing, as always, was a model of resourcefulness and taste. With the Charlie Christian Project, conceived by bassist Micky Patten as a tribute to the legendary guitarist who gained fame with the Benny Goodman Sextet and Orchestra before he died in March 1942 at age twenty-five, Shew discarded his typically modern approach to soloing in favor of a swing-era style that was more in keeping with the spirit and substance of Christian's pre-bop work with Goodman and others. Meanwhile, guitarist Michael Anthony, long a mainstay in Hollywood studios before relocating to New Mexico several years ago, proved to be a superb stand-in for Christian himself, while Patten and drummer Cal Haines provided unflagging rhythm.

With Shew alternating on various numbers between trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn, the quartet opened with the irrepressible "Royal Garden Blues" and continued through "Rose Room," "Love Me or Leave Me," Christian / Goodman's "Seven Come Eleven," Barney Kessel's "Salute to Charlie Christian," "Lonesome Road," "Rosetta," "Stardust" (a showpiece for Shew's cornet) and "Limehouse Blues." Haines, acting as emcee, invited the audience to dance, and the area in front of the bandstand was filled for several numbers. There were, as it turns out, almost two shows for the price of one, as a lone (and quite attractive) brunette, dancing by herself, added a unique series of interpretive moves to the proceedings before she was encouraged to audition her erotic pirouettes and come-hither glances elsewhere (as I remarked to a friend, "all she needs is a pole"). Whoever the woman was, she wasn't really doing any harm, simply trying to make the concert about her, not the music. She almost succeeded.

After an intermission, SuperSax NM charged into the breach with a crackling rendition of "Blue 'n Boogie," after which the group's sole newcomer, alto saxophonist Sam Reid, was given the first sax solo, on Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts." Reid was sitting in for the nonet's elder statesman, octogenarian Arlen Asher, who was recovering from recent surgery. The rest of the lineup remained intact: Shew, Haines, alto Dave Anderson, tenors Kanoa Kaluhiwa and Lee Taylor, baritone Glenn Kostur, pianist Bert Dalton and bassist Michael Glynn (guitarist Anthony joined the group for its final number, Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia"). "Blue 'n Boogie" and "Salt Peanuts" were followed by "Star Eyes," "Cool Blues," "Parker's Mood," "Be-Bop," "Just Friends" and "Tunisia."

For those who may be unaware of its history, the original SuperSax was formed in Los Angeles circa 1972 by saxophonist Med Flory and bassist Buddy Clark, the concept being to orchestrate solos by the legendary Charlie Parker for a full saxophone section. SuperSax recorded several best-selling albums and earned a Grammy award in 1974 before disbanding in the early 1990s. Two years ago, Haines decided to resurrect SuperSax in New Mexico, and the Museum concert was the group's fourth gig since then. The irrepressible Flory, who turned eighty-six on August 27, is an outspoken booster of SuperSax NM and gave his blessing to using the original charts. With those charts in hand, and plenty of rehearsal time under its belt, SuperSax gave an electrifying performance, complete with emphatic solos by Shew, Dalton, Reid, Kaluhiwa and Kostur, superior timekeeping by Haines and Glynn, and finger-busting ensemble work by the saxophones. In sum, a highly enjoyable performance, tempered only by the unhappy thought that a group this good can't find steadier employment.

Bloviation X 2

I got to thinking as I listened to them on headphones recently while working out that drummer Danny DImperio, who earned his stripes with the likes of Woody Herman and Maynard Ferguson, among others, recorded two of the more electrifying big-band albums of the last decade or so, Big Band Bloviation, Vols 1 and 2, and that no more than a handful of big-band enthusiasts may even be aware of their existence. I do know it took me forever to find copies (and I'm supposed to know what I'm doing), and to this day I couldn't tell anyone without doing any research where to find them. I can't speak to D'Imperio's motivation except to say that it obviously doesn't include record sales. Nevertheless, he has produced a pair of albums that beyond a doubt deserve to be widely heard, as they embody the finest elements of big-band jazz performed by musicians whose creds are beyond reproach. I don't know how D'Imperio persuaded so many topnotch artists to perform as sidemen in his ensemble; I'm only happy he did.

To begin with, any trumpet section led by the indomitable Dave Stahl is guaranteed to earn a blue ribbon, and when it embodies such other standouts as Greg Gisbert, Joe Magnarelli, Chris Persad, Dennis Dotson and Glenn Drewes, so much the better. In the reed section, you won't find a sharper or more engaging tenor saxophone soloist than Eric Alexander (dig his breathtaking two-minute introduction to Tadd Dameron's "Good Bait" on Vol. 1), while award-winning baritone Gary Smulyan and longtime D'Imperio teammate Gary Pribek on alto more than hold their own in the ad-lib department. Tenors Lew Tabackin and Ralph Lalama sit in briefly on Vol. 2. Trombones? How about John Mosca, Larry Farrell, Bruce Eidem and Jason Jackson. There are no lemons in that bunch. Turning to the rhythm section, all that need be said is that the lead accompanist is pianist Barry Harris. Guitarist Peter Bernstein is there too, as are D'Imperio and bassist Peter Mack.

Impressive as the ensemble and soloists are, D'Imperio's choice of material is arguably even more so, much like delicious frosting on a well-baked cake. Besides "Good Bait," the selections on Vol. 1 include Willie Maiden's "Three More Foxes" (scorching solos courtesy of Persad, Magnarelli and Gisbert), bassist Sam Jones' irresistible "Del Sasser," Don Sebesky's marvelous arrangement of "Danny Boy" (a vehicle for Stahl's Maynard-like trumpet), Wes Montgomery's "Four on Six," Alan Broadbent's "Adam's Apple," Bird's "Red Cross" and Clifford Brown's "Daahoud." Vol. 2 opens with Phil Kelly's "Sweet Georgia Upside Down," which precedes Frank Loesser's "Brotherhood of Man" (nicely arranged by Tony Klatko), the standard "Come Rain or Come Shine," Diz's "Groovin' High," Mike Abene's classic "Fox Hunt," Bill Stapleton's "Bill's Blues," Lee Morgan's delightful waltz, "Ceora," and Parker's lyrical "Yardbird Suite." Vol. 1 and tracks 4, 7 and 8 on Vol. 2 were recorded in October 2001, the other tracks on Vol. 2 in November 2003. And everything sounds as though it could have been recorded in the last week or so. This isn't meant to be a review (that has already been done) but more a reminder that there are at least a couple of terrific big-band albums out there somewhere that you may not have heard but definitely should.

And that's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin' . . . !

New and Noteworthy

1. James Morrison, Snappy Too (Morrison Records)

2. Aschaffenburger Big Band, Second Take (Main-Echo)

3. Stan Kenton / U Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Double Feature, Vol 3 (Tantara Productions)

4. JazzMN Big Band, Enriching Life with Jazz (Self Published)

5. NYJO, A Christmas Carol in Six Movements (Stanza Music)

6. Alon Yavnai / NDR Big Band, Shir Ahava (NDR)

7. Landes Jugend Orchester Bayern, Wie Heisst der Typ? (Self Published)

8. Millennium Jazz Orchestra, Distrust All Rules (MJO>

9. Big Band Burghausen, Blue Truth (B'Jazz)

10. Red Bank Jazz Orchestra, Strike Up the Band! (Hip City Jazz)

11. University Big Band, Stompin' at the University (Cat Sound Records)

12. Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, Live on the Plaza (KCJO Records)

13. Harry Smallenburg Jazz Ensemble, Just What I Was Thinking (Self Published)

14. Eyal Vilner, Introducing the Eyal Vilner Big Band (Gut String Records)

15. University of Northern Iowa Jazz Band One, Let Go (Self Published)

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