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Don't let the name mislead you. The only thing small about the Rick Holland/Evan Dobbins Band is its numbers. Everything else is super-sizefrom the remarkable energy and wall-to-wall sound to the awesome charts by Jim Martin, Brent Wallarab, Kerry Strayer and Bill Dobbins that never fail to bring out the best in the band's two-trumpet, two-trombone, four reeds and rhythm format.
As a result, the band has released a debut album that sparkles and swings from end to end, with precise section work and impressive solos by trumpeter Holland and a number of others, most notably pianist John Nyerges. Martin wrote and arranged the saucy samba "SUNY-Triangle (based on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Triste ) and the iridescent "In Time's Shadow (aka "Polka Dots and Moonbeams ), and it's always a pleasure to hear from him. Martin, as some may recall, wrote a number of brilliant charts some years ago for Rob Parton's Chicago-based JazzTech Big Band (including "Laura and "Sentimental Journey ) along with such memorable compositions as "Dreamer of Dreams and "Main Street News before giving up writing for teaching. As you'll hear, he hasn't lost the touch.
Wallarab, who co-leads his own big band in Indianapolis with Mark Buselli, wrote "Creature Comfort, "Footnote and the closing samba, "Five by Five, and adeptly remodeled Duke Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy (it's in there somewhere) to suit a 12/8 Afro-Cuban beat. Baritone saxophonist Strayer, an earnest admirer of Gerry Mulligan, pays tribute to the master with the evocative "Jeru Blue. Strayer also arranged Mulligan's atmospheric "Night Lights and Earl Hines' strapping swinger, "Rosetta, while Dobbins wrote the groovy blues, "Minor Incident, and arranged Alec Wilder's lyrical waltz, "While We're Young.
Strayer solos with tenor John Viavattine and bassist Dave Arenius on "Jeru Blue. Holland is heard with Nyerges on "Footnote, "Time's Shadow and "Rosetta, baritone Dean Keller on "Night Lights, soprano Matt Pivec on "While We're Young. Nyerges is showcased on "Five by Five and shares center stage with Viavattine on "SUNY-Triangle," tenor Glenn Cashman on "Creature Comfort. Pivec and trumpeter Brian Shaw are the soloists on "Black and Tan Fantasy, Shaw, Nyerges and trombonist Neal Melley on "Minor Incident. None is less than admirable.
The Holland/Dobbins Little Big Band is more big than little, in every sense of the word. Big band enthusiasts should love it, and so should everyone else who digs well-designed and well-played contemporary jazz.