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Although relatively unknown in the lower 48, Vic Vogel has been one of the brightest lights on the Canadian jazz scene for many years, a renowned composer, arranger and pianist who also presides over a superb Montreal-based big band. Much like Canadian counterparts Rob McConnell and Dave McMurdo, Vogel's bandleading recipe is unequivocalengage the best musicians one can find, give them meaty charts to sink their collective teeth into, and let 'em do their thing. For the most part it works quite well on Hangin' Loose, the ensemble's first album in several years.
Opening a big band session with a ballad may seem an unusual choice, but much less so when the ballad, "I Can Dream Can't I, is a showcase for the great baritone saxophonist Jean Fréchette, whose muscular sound and supple technique call to mind such giants as Pepper Adams and Harry Carney. "Dream is credited to Vincent Youmans, not Sammy Fain, one of several slapdash errors on the jacket. ("Let Me Love You, on which Vogel's piano is front and center, is credited to "Kern but is a second-tier pop song written long after composer Jerome Kern's death; "Foster (Frank?), not Horace Silver, is named as the composer of "Strolling, another tour de force for baritonist Fréchette.) "Swinging Shepherd is, of course, Vogel's arrangement of the late Moe Kaufman's "Swingin' Shepherd Blues, which Moe probably never heard swing quite like this version, a lively skirmish between two soprano saxophones (the soloists aren't listed, but one of them is presumably lead alto Janis Steprans).
There are five more original compositions, three by Vogel, one (the boppish "Willi ) credited to "Parker (Charlie?), another ("Like What Is This, aka Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love ) by "McKinley (first names aren't given). An exuberant rendition of Juan Tizol's venerable "Caravan rounds out the program. Vogel's "Marion's Theme is a groovy ballad, this one for alto saxophone (could be Steprans or David Turner). His other themes are the shuffling "Doggy Bag, funky "Hangin' Loose and Ellingtonesque "Song for Cootie. "What Is This and "Willi are the obligatory chops-busters, and in each case the band is equal to the task, with the reed section earning high marks for dexterity and drummer Dave Robbins impressive on "Willi.
If there's a downside, it's that sound quality is overly bright at times and not as crisp as one might expect from a studio session (the section work is sometimes more congested than crystalline). But that's not enough to dampen one's pleasure, as Vogel's arrangements are consistently persuasive and the band shows clearly why it is one of Canada's best. Definitely worth hearing.
Track Listing: I Can Dream Canít I?; Swinging Shepherd; Marionís Theme; Doggy Bag; Like What Is This; Hanginí Loose; Strolling; Let Me Love You; Caravan; Willi; Song for Cootie (61:41).
Personnel: Vic Vogel: leader, piano; Mike Cartile, Roger Woodall, Ron DiLauro, Joe Sullivan: trumpet;
Janis Steprans, David Turner, Simon Stone, Pat Vetter, Jean Frťchette: reeds; Patrice Dufour,
Philippe Gťlinas, Michel Ouellet, Robert Ellis: trombone; David Gelfand: bass; Dave Robbins: