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Sometimes it's a matter of perspective. Having attended the concert in May 2006 at which most of Bill Holman's latest album, Hommage, was recorded, I must acknowledge a modest level of disappointment. It didn't seem up to the maestro's usual standards, an opinion I later shared with Graham Carter, head of Jazzed Media Records.
Okay, so I got it wrong. It wasn't the first time, nor will it be the last. Perhaps I was tired and out of sorts that day. Be that as it may, I am happy to report that the album is appreciably more persuasive and rewarding than the concert, or at least the concert as I remember it. For one thing, it swings harder and more frequently; for another, the soloists are on top of their game, especially pianist Christian Jacob, tenor Pete Christlieb, trumpeter Ron Stout and clarinetist Bob Efford, who sits in for honoree Woody Herman on "Woodchopper's Ball and Holman's three-part Hommage à Woody.
"Ball isn't anything like the classic arrangement one is accustomed to hearing; it's more like Woody's Herd meets Gil Evans, but once the theme gains momentum it shuffles nicely along behind earnest solos by Efford and trumpeter Larry Lunetta. Holman wraps up the concert with Hommage, a colorful tour de force for Efford and the ensemble that opens with the spirited "Man of Few Herds, segues into the sultry "Milwaukee Nights (with occasional hints of "Blue Flame ) and scurries home with "The Chopper, on which Efford and the ensemble weather and subdue Holman's strenuous chart.
Herman is one of four legendary jazz artists to whom Holman pays his respects. The others are Billy Strayhorn ("Raincheck ), Thelonious Monk ("Bemsha Swing ) and Tadd Dameron ("If You Could See Me Now, a showcase for Stout). Jacob, Christlieb and trumpeter Jonathan Dane are the soloists on "Raincheck, with Jacob, Stout, alto Bruce Babad and the band's talented young drummer, Kevin Kanner, featured on "Bemsha Swing. Completing the program are a pair of Holman's typically off-center compositions, "Sunshinola and "Zamboni, the last of which sounds much like something Bob Florence might have written.
They say it takes a big man to admit a mistake. Well, I'm only 5'8 tall but I suppose that will have to suffice. I don't know how Graham Carter and the folks at Jazzed Media did it, but Hommage is in almost every respect more impressive than the concert as I remember it. Perhaps, as noted, it's a matter of perspective, and one has to hear Holman's music more than once to fully appreciate it. On first hearing I wouldn't have recommended Hommage; now I have no problem endorsing it without pause.
Track Listing: Raincheck; Zamboni; Bemsha Swing; If You Could See Me Now; Woodchopperís Ball; Homage ŗ Woody (A Man of Few Herds / Milwaukee Nights / The Chopper) (66:29).
Personnel: Bill Holman: composer, arranger, conductor; Carl Saunders: trumpet; Pete DiSiena: trumpet; Ron Stout: trumpet; Jonathan Dane: trumpet (1, 2, 4-9); Larry Lunetta: trumpet (6-9); Bob Summers: trumpet (3): trumpet; Roger Ingram: trumpet (3; Lanny Morgan: alto, soprano sax, flute; Bruce Babad: alto, soprano sax, flute; Pete Christlieb: tenor sax; Doug Webb: tenor sax; (1, 2, 4-9); Ray Herrmann: tenor sax; (3); Bob Efford: baritone sax, clarinet (2, 6-9); Bob Carr: baritone sax (6-9); Jack Redmond: trombone (1, 2, 4-9); Dave Ryan: trombone (1, 2, 4-9); Andy Martin: trombone; John Grab: trombone (3; Craig Gosnell: bass trombone; Bob Enevoldsen: valve trombone (3); Christian Jacob: piano; Joel Hamilton: bass; Kevin Kanner: drums.