Disproving the poet T.S. Eliot’s sardonic observation, composer / arranger / educator Hank Levy’s life ended not with a whimper but a bang, thanks to a group of his former students who decided to hand their mentor the reins for one last exhilarating buggy ride. The album’s title means exactly what it says — Hank at Home was recorded at Oak Crest Village in Baltimore, MD, where Levy resided until his passing last September at age 73, barely six months after the aptly named Alumni Band turned a part of his “home” into a makeshift studio to preserve for posterity ten of his scintillating big–band arrangements, the music to three of which he also composed. Hank was there to direct the session, and among the best things the album has going for it are his consistently resourceful charts, which are not only bright and challenging but never fail to swing. Levy was always partial to Latin rhythms, and each of his compositions (“Mucho Gusto, Los Mendanos,” “Latintensity,”“ With the Old Man in Mind”) sways to a buoyant tropical beat. The Alumni Band gives each of them a dramatic spin with drummer Steve Ashcraft a notably sure–handed navigator astride the ensemble’s tenacious rhythm section. The trumpets weather a shaky start on the lovely “Green Dolphin Street” but that’s the only conspicuous misstep in an otherwise admirable session. Soloists aren’t listed, which is too bad, as there are meaty comments by an unnamed alto or altos (“Green Dolphin Street,” “Over the Rainbow,” “With the Old Man in Mind”), soprano (“Just Friends”), trumpet (“Mucho Gusto”) and tenor (“Someday My Prince Will Come,” “My Favorite Things,” “Mucho Gusto,” “Latintensity”). The trombones are especially impressive on “Just Friends,” “A Time for Love” and “Little Girl Blue,” the reeds on “Someday My Prince Will Come,” the trumpets whenever their services are needed. Rich Collier, saddled with one of the worst–sounding pianos on record, rises above that impediment on “Just Friends” and “Latintensity,” while guitarist Dave Leoni weighs in with a couple of classy solos as well. What a thrill it must have been for Hank to supervise his former students one more time, given the best seat in the house to hear his arrangements performed by a group of musicians whose overriding purpose was to express their love and appreciation for the positive influence he’d had on their lives. At its heart, that’s what music, and Jazz, should be all about.
Green Dolphin Street; Just Friends; A Time for Love; Someday My Prince Will Come; My Favorite Things; Over the Rainbow; Mucho Gusto, Los Mendanos; Little Girl Blue; With the Old Man in Mind; Latintensity (54:55).
Hank Levy, composer, arranger, director; Gil Rathel, Dave Dumler, Pete Gorelick, Karl Tracy, Ray Disney, trumpet; Al Maniscalco, Adam Grimm, Dave Rbyczynski, Barry Caudill, Joe Corral, reeds; Dan Drew, Griz Gifford, Craig Fager, Andrea Staiano, Bernie Robier, trombone; Dave Leoni, guitar; Rich Collier, piano; Chris Hoffer, bass; Steve Ashcraft, drums.