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When all is said and done, Barrett Deems departed the same way he came in — Groovin’ Hard. The 84–year–old dynamo, who succumbed last September to pneumonia, made one last trip to the recording studio in January ’98 to prove that neither he nor his robust big band was combating the infirmities usually associated with advancing age. Prove it they do, as the band smokes effortlessly throughout while Deems, once labeled “the world’s fastest drummer,” shows he’d scarcely decelerated a beat in spite of a series of illnesses (including heart surgery) that would have consigned a less dedicated performer to permanent retirement — a word that wasn’t in Barrett’s dictionary. He was a player to the end, and anyone who doubts it need only sample this impassioned epilogue by the ensemble he was so happy and proud to supervise. What is most remarkable about Deems’ style is how he manages to keep the band swinging so earnestly without ever getting in anyone’s way. He’s simply there, an undersized bundle of energy and good taste who never stumbles or gives any chart less than his best. The band responds with marvelous readings of these well–known popular and Jazz standards, while soloists are consistently sharp and creative. Deems has one flashy drum showcase (Neal Hefti’s “Cute,” a brisk workout for brushes), young tenor star Frank Catalano inscribes his signature on Don Menza’s “Groovin’ Hard,” lead trumpeter John Chudoba blasts into the stratosphere on the “Theme from Superman,” trombonist Audrey Morrison has Monk’s “‘Round Midnight” to herself, guitarist Rob Curtis is featured on “I’ll Close My Eyes,” trumpeter Manny Lopez induces sparks on “The Song Is You” and alto Andy Farber is lush and romantic on “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” Other soloists worth noting are baritone Brian Patti (“Well Alright Then,” Menza’s gazelle–like “One for Otis”) and trombonist Loren Binford (“Best Coast,” “Lady Carolyn”). Patti and Catalano trade fours with Barrett on “One for Otis” (the only number on which brass and reeds encounter any problem with articulation). With Deems at its center, the rhythm section (Curtis, bassist Geoffrey Lowe, vibraphonist Ed Harrison) purrs along as smoothly as a well-tuned BMW. We're saddened that Barrett is no longer with us, but happy that he was able to bequeath to us and to generations yet unborn such a legacy of wonderfully swinging music.
Track listing: Groovin’ Hard; Cute; Best Coast; Can You Read My Mind? (Theme from “Superman”); Well Alright Then; ’Round Midnight; It Might As Well Be Spring; I’ll Close My Eyes; The Song Is You; What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?; Moten Swing; Lady Carolyn; One for Otis (59:13).
Barrett Deems, drums; John Chudoba, Pete Ellman, Chuck Parrish, Manny Lopez, trumpet; Audrey Morrison, Loren Binford, Tim Coffman, Craig Kaucher, trombone; Andy Farber, Jane Johnson, alto sax; Frank Catalano, Brian Watson, tenor sax; Brian Patti, baritone sax; Ed Harrison, vibes; Rob Curtis, guitar; Geoffrey Lowe, bass.
Contact: Lydia Records, 1616 N. Cleveland, Chicago, IL 60614. Distributed by Delmark Records, 4121 N. Rockwell, Chicago, IL 60618 (773