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Confessional time: prior to this listening to this disc my knowledge of Deems was cursory in the extreme. Vague recollections of the man’s name conspired with the less than flattering photo that adorns the cover of this release and resulted in a luke warm anticipation of the music. Looks can definitely be deceiving however and one tour of this disc’s generous contents revealed the hard swinging jargon that has been Deems vernacular for nearly three-quarters of a century. Sadly this disc proved the drummer’s last recording. He passed away shortly before its release, but could have done much worse than this final testament to his lengthy and distinguished career behind the traps set.
The big band he assembled is unique for several reasons most noticeably for the lack of a piano presence. Curtis’ guitar and Harrison’s vibes more than compensate and free things up harmonically for Deems to radiate on his drums. The program of tunes is a fitting collection of well-known and lesser traveled swing chestnuts all of which clock in the three to six minute range, giving space for solos while at the same time keeping things moving at a finger-popping momentum. Matters sometimes stray a little onto the schmaltzy side as on the corny reading of the Superman movie theme, with flamboyant brass fireworks from Chudoba. But Deems tasteful traps are always there to rein things in when they threaten to digress. On each of the tunes he shows off all the tricks of the trade he accrued during sojourns with some of the legendary swing bands including Armstrong’s All-Stars and large groups fronted by Teagarden and Goodman. Tight cymbal rhythms, crashing toms and quiet brushes are all at Deems facile fingertips and listening to the solid rhythmic architectures he routinely drafts will leave you marveling that the man was 85 when this session was waxed. The rest of the band continuously sounds sparked by Deems unflagging enthusiasm and rockets along at the propulsive pace set by his drums. Chicago saxophonist Catalano is particularly impressive spinning off solid solo statements on the title tune, “Best Coast” and “One For Otis.” Curtis’ iridescent strings are the centerpiece on the lithesome reading of “I’ll Close My Eyes” blending with a lush brass backdrop. Fans of well conceived and impeccably executed big band swing are strongly advised to check out this swan song from Deems for a lavish taste of how it’s done.
Track Listing: Groovin
Personnel: Barrett Deems- drums; John Chudoba- trumpet; Pete Ellman- trumpet; Chuck Parrish- trumpet; Manny Lopez- trumpet; Audrey Morrison- trombone; Loren Binford- trombone; Tim Coffman- trombone; Craig Kaucher- trombone; Andy Farber- alto saxophone; Jan Johnson- alto saxophone; Frank Catalano- tenor saxophone; Brian Watson- tenor saxophone; Brian Patti- baritone saxophone; Ed Harrison- vibes; Rob Curtis- electric guitar; Geoffrey Lowe- double bass.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.