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In Tune or Not in Tune... That Is the Question


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Suppose a month goes by, you have a column to publish, but nothing has happened that's worth writing about. What do you do then? Read on, as the question is about to be answered.

A while back there was a discussion at a Stan Kenton web site (Kentonia) about musicians or groups of musicians (more specifically, soprano saxophonists) playing out of tune, either occasionally or frequently. My response (entirely personal) was as follows:

"Well, there is obviously something wrong with my ears, and I suppose that's a blessing, as most of the soprano solos I've heard (on recordings) have, to me, sounded very much in tune. Logic tells me that if they weren't, some of the other musicians (or those who mixed, mastered, supervised, engineered and carried out other technical chores like that), who presumably have an ear for music, would have noticed and said, 'hey, that's out of tune; let's try it again'—or, 'let's use our space-age technology to correct it.' My brother Tom (a musician himself, amateur division) will say to me, 'He (or she) is playing out of tune.' 'Sounds fine to me,' I'll reply, and so it does. Then I think, 'Why didn't anyone else (besides my brother) notice that while they were recording? They are, after all, musicians, and should know when something is being played out of tune.' It doesn't make sense to me simply to release a recording on which someone is playing 'out of tune' because that is the path of least resistance. There are, after all, such things as multiple takes and, these days, even electronic correction.

"The occasions on which I've heard (perhaps I should say 'noticed') someone playing 'out of tune' have been extremely rare. That's not the same as being put off by the 'sound' of a saxophone (or clarinet, or any other instrument). Obviously, there are some who sound better than others (Zoot Sims, for example, was a master of every horn who sounded great on any and all of them). I wouldn't know about Kenny G; perhaps his playing out of tune would be an asset. But for most saxophone players it's a liability, and I can't imagine anyone wanting to do that, even accidentally. Saxophonists may miss a note here and there, but that's not the same as playing 'out of tune,' which implies they are doing it consistently. I've never quite understood the assertion that a professional musician, who has labored and studied to master his craft, likely has a good pair of ears, and must know when something is being played in tune (or not), would be playing out of tune while blithely unaware that he (or she) was doing so. Are musicians really unable to hear the difference? If so, how are they ever able to play music well? It seems to me that if they can't tell the difference between being in or out of tune we'd be left with cacophony, which isn't the case at all. Logic dictates that (most) musicians must know when they are playing the music correctly. Logic also tells me that most it not all of them do (an opinion reinforced by my admittedly average ears). Well, as I said, my ears may be deficient, but I do think that enables me to enjoy music more than others who may notice more (defects) than I do, and I like that trade-off."

That's how it looks from one non-musician's point of view. I may be completely off base, so please feel free to poke holes in the argument wherever warranted. I would, of course, expect you to back up your opinion with facts, which may prove difficult in this particular case, as "in tune" or "out of tune" can sometimes lie in the ear of the beholder. In other words, one listener's Jo Stafford may be another's Darlene Edwards. Again, speaking only for myself, I find it hard to believe that anyone on a recording who is playing even slightly out of tune (I'm referring here to jazz musicians, not rockers or their ilk) wouldn't want to try and get it right. It's just plain common sense.

And that, dear readers, is how to make a column out of nothing. I hope you've been taking notes.

Swingin' on a Riff

Toward the end of May, Betty and I plan to be in Los Angeles (at the Airport Marriott Hotel) for the Ken Poston / L.A. Jazz Institute's latest extravaganza, "Swingin' on a Riff: Big Band Masters of the Twenty-First Century," the dates for which are May 23-26. Four films, four panel discussions and no fewer than seventeen concerts in four days, more than enough to assuage anyone's appetite for big bands. There'll be plenty of big names too: Bill Holman, Don Menza, Bobby Shew, Tom Kubis, Bob Curnow, Mike Barone, Pete Christlieb, Roger Neumann, Gary Urwin, Bill Watrous, Kim Richmond, Steve Huffsteter, Alan Broadbent and many others. Obviously, the June edition of Big Band Report (the last after a fifteen-year run; more about that next month) will be devoted to coverage of what promises to be a spectacular event.

RIP, Derek Watkins

British trumpeter Derek Watkins, a star lead player in several big bands who also performed on the soundtracks of all twenty-three James Bond films, died of cancer March 22 at age sixty-eight. Fellow trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie once said of him, "When you speak of lead trumpets, Derek is 'Mr. Lead.'" Watkins started as a trumpeter in his father's dance band before turning professional at age seventeen. He was a member of the Ted Heath and John Dankworth bands before touring with Benny Goodman in 1969. He moved to Los Angeles in 1970 and spent four years as a first-call studio musician, meanwhile playing after hours at Donte's jazz club with the likes of drummer Louie Bellson and saxophonist Don Menza. He also played jazz with Gillespie, Count Basie and Oscar Peterson while accompanying performers such as Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Elton John and others, and opera singers including Kiri Te Kanawa, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras. Besides the Bond films, he performed on Basic Instinct, Gladiator, Superman 1, Superman 2 and Bridget Jones's Diary. His trumpet solo opens the film Chicago. In association with Dr. Richard Smith, head of acoustics at Boosey and Hawkes, Watkins established a manufacturing company, Smith-Watkins Instruments, which manufactures and supplies trumpets and cornets to musicians. As a composer, he collaborated with Colin Sheen and James Talbot to provide incidental music for the long-running television show Midsomer Murders. Watkins was also a visiting professor of trumpet at the UK's Royal Academy of Music.

Recent Big-Band Releases

Stan Kenton Tribute Band / McGill University Jazz Orchestra 1
Double Feature, Volume 4
Tantara Productions

As the title denotes, this is the fourth in a series of double-CD packages produced by Bill Lichtenauer's Tantara Productions devoted to the music of Stan Kenton. It differs from the first three volumes, however, in that the Kenton Orchestra is not showcased on Disc 1. That space is taken instead by a Stan Kenton Tribute Band, taped for an audience in July 1993 at the Centrum Jazz Workshop in Port Townsend, WA, directed by the renowned saxophonist and Kenton alumnus Bud Shank. And what a band it was! With former Kenton stalwarts Shank and Greg Metcalf on alto sax, Bob Cooper and Bill Perkins on tenor, the incomparable Conte Candoli in the trumpet section, Jiggs Whigham playing lead trombone, and none other than Pete Rugolo and Bill Holman conducting their own compositions, it's like hopping into a time machine for the most enjoyable ride of your life. As icing on an already delectable cake, the great Bobby Shew plays lead trumpet, drummer Frank Capp pilots a blue-chip rhythm section (Kenton alum Dave Barduhn, piano; Doug Miller, bass), and the emcee is former Kenton trombonist Milt Bernhart who proves to be the perfect man for the job—erudite, amusing and with a marvelous voice to boot. Wonderful as they are, the real surprise—to the uninitiated—will be the impressive McGill University Jazz Orchestra 1, which confirms on Disc 2 that it is one of the outstanding undergraduate ensembles anywhere, capable of interpreting Kenton's music in a manner that certainly would have had the Tall Guy smiling and voicing his unreserved approval.

After opening with Kenton's swinging, seldom-heard arrangement of the traditional folk song "Arkansas Traveler" from 1941 and a chorus of his first sizable hit, "Eager Beaver," from two years later, Disc 1 embodies features for Cooper (Shorty Rogers' "Coop"), Candoli ("Pennies from Heaven"), Shew ("Maynard Ferguson"), Perkins ("Yesterdays") and Shank ("Stella by Starlight"), interspersed with Rugolo's "Collaboration" and "Machito," the memorable Kenton theme, "Artistry in Rhythm," and a pair of master works by Holman: "The Tall Guy" (whose playing time is nineteen minutes) and, as an encore, "Stompin' at the Savoy." Cooper's solo, as nimble and buoyant as ever, is especially heart-wrenching, as he succumbed to a heart attack less than two weeks after the session was recorded. I can honestly say that it brought tears to at least one listener's eyes. Candoli is resplendent on "Pennies," as are Shew (one of the few trumpeters who could pull that off) on Rogers' acrobatic "Maynard," Perkins on "Yesterdays" and Shank on "Stella." Barduhn, Candoli and Perkins (on soprano) share the limelight on "The Tall Guy" and again on the irrepressible "Savoy." "That concludes the dress rehearsal," Bernhart deadpans afterward. "The real concert starts in half an hour." Pardon the exclamation mark, but there's only one word that suitably describes the Kenton Tribute Band's "rehearsal": Wow!

Holman is prominent again on Disc 2, having written and arranged the first three numbers: "The Opening," "Tenor Piece" and "Cuba Jazz" (which should be heard more often). Rugolo is represented by "Artistry in Gillespie" and "Three Bop" along with his arrangements of Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite" and the standard "All the Things You Are," Bill Russo by his "Vignette," "An Esthete on Clark Street" and "Altonality" and arrangements of "It's the Talk of the Town" and "Autumn Leaves." Completing the program are Manny Albam's propulsive "Guane," Ken Hanna's galvanic "Durango" and Shorty Rogers' arrangement of the ballad "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." Throughout, the McGill ensemble, astutely directed by Gordon Foote, remains uncommonly close to the spirit of Kenton, so much so that the over-all effect is astonishing, almost like hearing the Kenton Orchestra "reborn" in the hands of these remarkable young musicians. CD 2 opens, appropriately enough, with Holman's "The Opening," written for the second Festival of Modern American Jazz concert tour in 1954 and featuring spicy solos by trumpeter Andre Wickenheiser, tenor saxophonist Mike Bjella and alto Michael Johancsik. Bjella is showcased on Holman's "Tenor Piece" and solos with trumpeter Andy King and guest conguero Kiko Osario on the rhythmically and harmonically exciting "Cuba Jazz."

Russo is up next with the buoyant "Esthete on Clark Street," which brings out the best in trombonists Geoff Cronin, Alex Truelove and Taylor Donaldson. Pianist Andrew Boudreau is front and center on the brooding "Vignette," guest altos Remi Bolduc and Donny Kennedy with the ensemble's Johancsik and Benjamin Deschamps on the effervescent alto feature, "Altonality." Albam's "Guane" and Hanna's "Durango," either or both of which would have been at home in Johnny Richards' Cuban Fire suite, are vehicles for, respectively, trumpeter Dominic Rossi and trombonist Donaldson. After "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," the rest of Disc 2 is all Rugolo, with a sumptuous treatment of "ATTYA" leading to "Artistry in Gillespie," "Yardbird Suite" and one of Rugolo's few bop-influenced works, "Three Bop." Drummer Mat MacEachern is superb (as he is from end to end) on "Artistry," whose perceptive soloists are Johancsik, Truelove and Bjella, while Deschamps, Truelove, Bjella and trumpeter Caroline Johnson share the spotlight on the groovy "Suite," King, Bjella and Deschamps on the fiery "Three Bop."

In a blindfold test, you'd have a hard time convincing anyone that the McGill Jazz Orchestra isn't a professional working group (yes, they're that good), while the consummate artistry of the Kenton Tribute Band speaks for itself. If you've been waiting for a letdown in this splendid series, you'll have to wait a while longer, as the latest edition is by any measure as stellar as those that have come before it. Some listeners, in fact, may suggest that Volume 4 is in many ways superior to its precursors, an opinion this reviewer would not deign to challenge.

Rob Parton Big Band
We'll Be Together Again
JazzTech Records

Before moving to Columbus, Ohio, in 2010, trumpeter Rob Parton was the leader for almost thirty years of one of the Chicago area's premier ensembles, the JazzTech Big Band. And so it was only natural that when Parton became tired of resting on the sidelines and decided to re-form a band, he should return to the Windy City to assemble the components of the new Rob Parton Big Band, whose singular talents are self-evident on the band's debut recording, We'll Be Together Again. As Parton writes in the liner notes, his "Chicago family" is comprised of "some of the best musicians anywhere," and after listening to them play, it would be imprudent to argue the point.

The album's centerpiece is Eric Richards' picturesque three-part "Fantasy for Trumpet and Jazz Orchestra," a bracing fifteen-minute suite on which Parton is featured on trumpet with guitarist Mike Pinto and drummer Bob Rummage (Movement 1, "Gold"), on flugelhorn with trombonist Tom Garling ("Copper"), and on trumpet again with Rummage, trombonist Tim Coffman and fellow trumpeters BJ Cord and Victor Garcia ("Silver"). The "Fantasy" was a challenge, Parton writes, as it "demands the precision and range of a lead player, the improvisational abilities of a jazz player and the technique of a classical player." There aren't many trumpeters capable of wearing so many hats; Parton is one of the few who can.

Richards' opus is preceded by "Serenade to a Bus Seat," Parton's buoyant tribute to trumpeter Clark Terry (neatly arranged by Steven Guerra and featuring nimble solos by Parton and baritone Ted Hogarth); Joe Henderson's groovy "Tetragon" (arranged by Michael Conrad); Thelonious Monk's resplendent "Ugly Beauty," a showcase for tenor saxophonist Mark Colby arranged by Joe Policastro, and Cole Porter's "I Love You," arranged by and featuring alto Chris Madsen with Parton on trumpet. Tenor John Wojciechowski, a former standout at Western Michigan University who solos astutely on "Serenade" and "Tetragon," is heard from again on Garling's rhythmically persuasive "Coda" and (with Parton on flugel) the album's title song, "We'll Be Together Again." Parton (trumpet) and pianist Kevin O'Connell share solo honors on Miles Davis / Bill Evans' soft-spoken "Blue in Green," as do trumpeter Garcia and bassist Stewart Miller on the romping finale, Johnny Mercer's "I Remember You."

Welcome back to Chicago, Rob. And welcome, Rob Parton Big Band. We hope you'll be together again for at least another thirty-year run.

Swiss Jazz Orchestra

Lucidity, the most recent album by the metronomic Swiss Jazz Orchestra, which runs, if you'll pardon the blatant pun, like clockwork, is comprised of half a dozen compositions and arrangements by pianist Philip Henzi and one more co-written by Henzi and Gregor Hilbe. To help ensure quality control, the SJO invited the great Belgian composer / arranger / trumpeter Bert Joris to be its guest conductor. While it's impossible to say how the ensemble might have fared without his guidance, the guess is that its performance would have been more than satisfactory.

Be that as it may, Joris presides over a series of varied and engaging themes that lend the orchestra numerous opportunities to shine, which it does in every instance. The word "themes" is used because Henzi's music is thematic: "Losing Lucidity" denotes "the loss of control in a dream-like stage"; "A Chaser" was "inspired by a dream in which random images and episodes follow each other at high speed"; "Figment" traces "a nocturnal scene—a lake, a lighthouse, a deserted playgound," and so on. The album closes with the entirely dissimilar and esoteric "Figment (Remix)," co-written by Henzi and Hilbe (and including what sounds like a turntable). This may have been added late, as pianist Jim McNeely's otherwise splendid liner notes make no mention of it.

Henzi's other songs are "Bathyal," which, he writes, "represents the ocean from a depth of 1000—4000 meters"; "Promenade," a "hidden door into a mystic room full of colorful print cylinders," and "Teebeutelregen," a look at Bern's old town, where "it is raining tea bags and a horse carriage speeds through the alley." While the listener may or may not apprehend those images, the music has a meaning of its own that is clearly worth considering. Even though the orchestra is most often in the forefront, the SJO's soloists are first-rate, starting with trombonist Stefan Schlegel and soprano Adrian Pflugshaupt ("Losing Lucidity") and continuing with trumpeter Johannes Walter, bassist Lorenz Beyeler and tenor Jurg Bucher ("A Chaser"), alto Reto Suhner, flugel Daniel Woodtli, baritone Marc Schodler—and Roland Wager on udu! ("Teebeutelregen"), bassists Antonio Schiavano (electric) and Beyeler (acoustic), tenor Till Grunewald and trombonist Andreas Tschopp ("Figment"), Suhner on alto clarinet ("Bathyal"), trumpeter Thomas Knuchel, trombonist Rene Mosele, pianist Henzi and guitarist Nikolay Karageorgiev ("Promenade").

When all is said and done, Lucidity is music for the open-minded, not necessarily for those who hold fast to tradition, especially as it applies to big-band jazz. Henzi is a perceptive composer, but what he has in mind may not mirror everyone's idea of what a big band should embody. Fans of Basie, Herman, Rich or even Ellington / Kenton should take that for what it's worth.

The Ian McDougall 12Tet
Self Published

Put a dozen immoderately talented jazz musicians in one room, as trombonist Ian McDougall has done on Live, and you almost can't help but produce an album that crackles with high-powered enthusiasm as it swings easily from one emphatic measure to the next. Oh, to have been there to see and hear this excellent concert, presented in March 2012 at the Cellar Club in Vancouver, BC. Luckily, it was recorded, so those who weren't there can at least eavesdrop and appreciate what twelve perceptive, single-minded men are able to accomplish when the stars align and the time is right.

It's clear from the outset that this is to be a concert like few others, as tenors Ross Taggart and Phil Dwyer lay down the gauntlet and lock horns in earnest on McDougall's free and easy "Tales of Cotton" (inspired, McDougall says, by Ben Webster), bringing to mind memories of such implacable dueling tenors as Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon, Ammons and Sonny Stitt, Gordon and Wardell Gray, Johnny Griffin and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Later on, the altos have their say, with Campbell Ryga and Chris Startup dueling on "Silver Woody," McDougall's inventive union of Horace Silver's "Sister Sadie with his impressions of the Woody Herman Herds. McDougall also wrote "Desolation Blues," "Red Sky" and "Dry with a Twist," while Don Thompson contributed the shimmering "LEDCC" (Lower Etobicoke Daycare Center) and Dwyer penned the jazz waltz "Speak Softly" for his wife and daughter. Rounding out the program are Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa" (taken at a slower-than-usual tempo) and the '30s standard "Home," which McDougall inserted because it was one of his father's favorite songs (and which swings here as never before).

One feature of McDougall's ensemble that stands out is that each of its members is not only an unwavering team player but an exemplary soloist as well. Besides the tenors and altos already named, they include bassist Ken Lister and guitarist Oliver Gannon ("Desolation Blues"), trumpeter Brad Turner and pianist Ron Johnston ("LEDCC"), Turner and Gannon ("Blue Bossa"), Gannon, Dwyer and Lister ("Speak Softly"), Johnston and Ryga ("Red Sky"). McDougall solos twice, with Taggart on "Home," with Johnston and Dwyer on the well-grooved "Dry with a Twist." Not to single anyone out, but Johnston and Ryga are especially impressive on the prismatic "Red Sky," Ryga and Startup likewise on "Silver Woody." And even though drummer Craig Scott doesn't solo, he handles more than his share of the heavy lifting as unflappable skipper of the group's tight-knit rhythm section.

McDougall, who logged twenty years as lead trombonist with Rob McConnell's peerless (and greatly missed) Boss Brass, has stayed busy since returning home to British Columbia, teaching, composing and performing in the Vancouver area. During his years in the trenches, McDougall has developed a keen eye for synergy and talent, a knack that is readily apparent on Live, one of the more persuasive concert recordings in recent memory.

Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra
Nineteen / Eight Records

In the introduction to her debut recording, Bloom, Japanese-born composer / arranger Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra writes that she tries with her music "to capture the scenes, feelings, smells, temperatures, colors, laughs and tears of our life . . ." a purpose that is reflected in such titles as "Electric Images," "Bumblebee Garden," "Dance One," "Dragonfly's Glasses" and "Islands in the Stream." Whether she succeeds is up to the listener to decide; what can be said is that Kakitani, winner in 2006 of the BMI Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize, is a gifted writer, one of many young composer / arrangers who are ushering big-band jazz along new pathways while enlarging its scope and securing its relevance.

To accomplish her purpose, Kakitani has formed an eighteen-member ensemble comprised of some of the New York City area's most accomplished musicians, seasoned professionals to whom she can entrust her music without any thought of mishap. They don't let her down. The artistry is first-class, sound quality the same. As for the music, Kakitani proves beyond any doubt that her award-winning resume is accurate. Her compositions and arrangements are clear-eyed and colorful, leaning more toward Toshiko Akiyoshi than, say, Maria Schneider, Sara Serpa) leads to Kenny Berger's warm-blooded bass clarinet solo.

Even though Kakitani's themes are in the forefront, she has a number of proficient soloists in the band and is sharp enough to leave room for them to have their say, starting with trumpeter John Bailey and tenor Jason Rigby on "Bloom." Bassist Dave Ambrosio, pianist Mike Eckroth and guitarist Pete McCann are out front on "Electric Images," Serpa and trombonist Matt McDonald on "Bumblebee Garden." Drummer Mark Ferber, who leads the dexterous rhythm section, solos with alto John O'Gallagher and trombonist Jacob Garchik on "Dance One," tenor Ben Kono is featured on "Dragonfly's Glasses," while McCann, trumpeter Matt Holman and tenor Mark Small share the honors on "Islands in the Stream" and Eckroth, Ferber and trombonist Mark Patterson wrap things up on the picturesque finale, "Skip" (on which Serpa again lends her vocal talents).

While Kakitani shows that she can swing when she has to, Bloom would never be confused with Basie, Herman, Kenton or their kin. The mood is for the most part decorous, and shout choruses are rare. Having said that, it's clear that Kakitami knows her way around a big band and can bring out the best in an ensemble. That she does so on Bloom is a tribute to her unfolding expertise and vision.

NSU Jazz Ensemble
On Cue: The Music of Seamus Blake
NSU Jazz Lab

Saxophonist Seamus Blake, born in London, raised in Canada, educated in Boston and based in New York City, is a mid-stream (formerly young) lion of forty-two whose audacious roar has been heard in the acclaimed Mingus Big Band, on a number of well-received CDs on the Criss Cross, Fresh Sound and Jazz Eyes labels, and most recently in Tahlequah, OK, as guest artist with the Northeastern State University Jazz Ensemble. Not only did Blake write all the music for the NSU ensemble's sixth album, recorded in May 2012, he also solos perceptively on every number.

As a composer, Blake has Mingus' ear for an engaging melody and rhythms that swing without pretense. On the other hand, while he clearly respects Mingus as a springboard, Blake's compositions are as a rule more accessible and less thematic. They do, however, move in many cases from relatively quiet beginnings to thunderous climaxes, employing credible dissonances along the way to fan the flames, both hallmarks of Mingus' singular approach. Having played the role of sympathetic collaborator through the first half-dozen numbers, Blake chooses to give the students a saxophone lesson on the shuffling, New Orleans-style "Zydeco," unfurling a sensational unaccompanied coda that consumes more than three minutes as it closes the session on a remarkably high note.

This follows a series of engaging themes in which the NSU ensemble shows why Blake would agree to come to Tahlequah to teach and record, as Russell Malone, Robin Eubanks and Bobby Watson had done in recent years. Director Tommy Poole has assembled a first-class band, one that is able to master without flinching elaborate charts by the likes of Blake and the others. Blake's up-tempo numbers—"On Cue," "Fear of Roaming," "Way Out Willie," "Shabu Shabu"—are counterbalanced by a brace of handsome ballads, "Trust in You" and "The Song That Lives Inside," the last of which is a shapely vehicle for Blake's expressive tenor. The undergrads have some capable soloists of their own, among them trumpeter Timothy Moore ("On Cue"), tenor Joseph Barger and guitarist Stephen Schultz ("Fear of Roaming"), pianist Daniel Thompson ("Trust in You"), Schultz, tenor Christopher Beard and trombonist Trevor Moore ("Way Out Willie"), Thompson and drummer Christopher Wilson ("Shabu Shabu").

After listening to On Cue, the obvious conclusion is that big-band jazz is alive and well in unassuming Tahlequah, OK, at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. Kudos all around, for Poole, the NSU ensemble and their multi-talented guest, Seamus Blake.

In Smaller Packages . . .

Jack Mouse Group
Range of Motion

Jack Mouse, a sure-handed, high-energy drummer who is best known as a dependable timekeeper for groups large and small on the Chicago scene and elsewhere, moves to the head of the class on Range of Motion, leading a quintet whose members share his expansive, something-for-everyone point of view. Apart from his role as rhythmic helmsman, Mouse also writes, and writes quite well, having composed all of the album's ten selections, themes whose "range of motion" is broad and impressive.

Sharing front-line duties are the chameleon-like Scott Robinson (flute on "The Breezeling," soprano sax on "Manne-Rism," tenor on everything else) and Art Davis, another Chicago mainstay who has to be one of the most resourceful post-bop trumpeters you've never heard (think Bobby Shew, Marvin Stamm or West Coast stalwart Bob Summers). Completing the rhythm section are guitarist John McLean and bassists Bob Bowman (five tracks) or Kelly Sill (four). The closer, "Loose Weave," is an amorphous "free-form duet" for Mouse and Robinson. If the groovy curtain-raiser, "LaPorta" (dedicated to one of Mouse's mentors, the late clarinetist John LaPorta) doesn't pique your ears, a visit to an audiologist may be in order. The group follows that with the New Orleans-style "Slow Helen," placid "Winterset" and fidgety "Hip Check" (inspired by former Boston Bruins hockey star Bobby Orr).

"Raucaus Caucus," a rhythmic air with an African subtext, precedes "The Breezeling," Mouse's easygoing salute to Henry Mancini; the gritty "Mean Street" (written while Mouse was a member of the Bunky Green Quartet); the alluring waltz "Prairie Dance" and "Manne-Rism," the drummer's upbeat bow to one of the West Coat's legendary timekeepers, Shelly Manne (on which Mouse dazzles with brushes, as he does on "The Breezeling"). Would love to have heard more of Robinson's silky soprano, but you can't have everything. Range of Motion is by any measure a splendid album, well-written (and quarterbacked) by Mouse and well-executed by everyone else. Thumbs-up.

The Dave Young / Terry Promane Octet
Octet Volume One
Modica Music

More splendid music from north of the border courtesy of the Dave Young / Terry Promane Octet, which was formed more than a decade ago to play classic "Dave Pell Octet"-style arrngements but has come a long way since then. With Young, Promane and Rick Wilkins ("Soundings") writing the charts for an ensemble comprised of Canadian all-stars, Octet Volume 1 runs the gamut from Dizzy Gillespie to Thad Jones, Charles Mingus and Hank Mobley to Sam Jones, with stops in between for originals by Promane and Wilkins and the Swing Era evergreen "Stompin' at the Savoy," cleverly updated by Promane. Among the album's more tantalizing features is the label "Volume 1," which betokens the promise of even more to come.

Much is made of the "Toronto sound," which Promane says is "complicated, but generally relies on a few crucial ingredients: exciting, well-crafted and uniquely voiced arrangements, a distinctly Canadian musical sensibility, impeccable tuning, flawless execution and world-class solos." No pressure there. And if there were any, the garden-variety listener would never perceive it. Everyone plays "Toronto-style," which must, for starters, also embrace the adjectives "charming" and "persuasive." The charts are indeed well-crafted and uniquely voiced, the tuning spotless, the execution unblemished, the solos world-class. It all starts with Gillespie's fiery "Manteca," on which trumpeter Kevin Turcotte fashions the first of several perceptive solos, and continues with Sam Jones' muscular "Unit 7," showcasing Turcotte, alto Vern Dorge, pianist Gary Williamson and the group's blue-chip drummer, Terry Clarke.

Dizzy resurfaces with "A Night in Tunisia" (solos by Turcotte and trombonist Promane), preceding Thad Jones' "To You," nicely arranged by Young who solos with Williamson and baritone Perry White, and Wilkins' rhythmically intense "Soundings" (Dorge, Promane, Clarke). In Promane's capable hands, the Benny Goodman / Chick Webb / Edgar Sampson jazz standard is transformed into "Waltzin' at the Savoy," with incisive statements by Promane and tenor Mike Murley. Promane's glossy originals, "Still Waters" and "East Of Pho Hung," sandwiched around Mingus' "Better Get Hit in Your Soul," are as tasty as anything on the menu, and that's saying a mouthful. Williamson and Murley share blowing space on "Waters," Young and Murley on "Pho Hung," White and Turcotte on "Soul." The closer, Mobley's fast-paced "Infra-Rae," is icing on an appetizing cake. White, Promane, Williamson and Clarke (who anchors the octet's exemplary rhythm section) are the intrepid soloists.

Octet Volume 1 is one of those remarkable sessions that don't turn up often but can be recommended without pause to anyone who appreciates jazz as it should be played. Bravo to Dave Young and Terry Promane for producing it. Let us hope that a Volume 2 is already in the works.

Kathleen Lee
Coming Up for Air
Maybe This Time Music

Coming Up for Air is an agreeable pastiche by singer / songwriter Kathleen Lee, one that doubles as a tribute to her hometown, New Orleans, which even now continues its recovery from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Lee, a radio host who lost her possessions and had to evacuate the city in the wake of the storm, was soon back on the air on WWOZ-FM, broadcasting her jazz program from a remote location in Baton Rouge. She'd already begun work on a CD, and was convinced by Katrina to complete it as a way of showing the world that New Orleans may have been dealt a crippling blow by the hurricane but was far from lifeless.

Lee mixes things up, blending standards and originals (two of her own, two others by Nick Faust Jr.), ballads, blues, gospel and gasconade. She is accompanied for the most part by groups ranging from five to seven, the exceptions being "You Better Go Now" (with pianist Fred Sanders) and the finale, "Bye Bye Blackbird," on which Lee is supported by bassists David Pulphus and Kerry Lewis. She boasts a strong mid-range voice that is put to best use on "Blackbird," "Fever" and the standard "All of Me" (one of at least two tracks recorded live). Lee sounds almost like a different singer on her own composition, "Dans la Magie de la Lumiere," sung in French in a husky voice reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich or perhaps Jeri Southern. Speaking of Southern, Lee has a go at one of Jeri's signature songs, "You Better Go Now," but sings it more forcefully than Jeri, as she does Peggy Lee's mega-hit, "Fever."

Were it up to me, I'd have opened the album with a stronger track than "Lady Be Good," on which Lee sounds a tad indecisive and scats to no great effect. On the other hand, "Lady" does swing nicely, a brisk counterpoint to "La Lumiere" and the songs that follow: Faust's bluesy "Meet My Baby on the Night Train," Eugene McDaniels' gospel-flavored "Somethin' Real" and Faust's rather indifferent ballad "The Thrill of Love Just Never Fades." Lee wraps things up with another of her compositions, the sensuous "In the Magic of the Light." In sum, a charming potpourri of verse, nicely sung by Lee who raises high the banner of New Orleans for everyone to see and appreciate.

Tracks and Personnel

Double Feature, Volume 4

Tracks: CD1: Opening Remarks; Arkansas Traveler; Eager Beaver; Pete Rugolo introduction; Collaboration; Machito introduction; Machito; Bob Cooper introduction; Coop's Solo; Conte Candoli introduction; Pennies from Heaven; Band introduction; Bobby Shew introduction; Maynard Ferguson; Bill Perkins introduction; Yesterdays; Bud Shank introduction; Stella by Starlight; Bill Holman introduction; The Tall Guy; Closing remarks; Artistry in Rhythm; Stompin' at the Savoy. CD2: The Opener; Tenor Piece; Cuba Jazz; An Esthete on Clark Street; Vignette; It's the Talk of the Town; Autumn Leaves; Guane; Durango; Smoke Gets in Your Eyes; All the Things You Are; Artistry in Gillespie; Yardbird Suite; Three Bop.

Personnel: CD1:Milt Bernhart: emcee; Bobby Shew: trumpet; Conte Candoli: trumpet; Gary Barone: trumpet; Brad Allison: trumpet; Jay Thomas: trumpet; Bud Shank: alto sax; Greg Metcalfe: alto sax; Bob Cooper: tenor sax; Bill Perkins: tenor sax; Bill Ramsay: baritone sax; Jiggs Whigham: trombone; Wayne Andre: trombone; Dan Marcus: trombone; Mike Barone: trombone; Ken Shirk: bass trombone; Dave Barduhn: piano; Doug Miller: bass; Frank Capp: drums. CD2: Gordon Foote: director; Dominic Rossi: trumpet; Andy King: trumpet; Andre Wickenheiser: trumpet; Darelos Katsanikakis: trumpet; Caroline Johnson: trumpet; Benjamin Deschamps: alto sax; Michael Johancsik: alto sax; Mike Bjella: tenor sax; Alexandre Beauregard: tenor sax; Andrew Morrill: baritone sax; Taylor Donaldson: trombone; Alex Truelove: trombone; Geoff Cronin: trombone; Karine Gordon: trombone; Felix Del Tredici: bass trombone; Andrew Boudreau: piano; Maxime Tremblay: guitar; Mike De Masi: bass; Mat McEachern: drums. Guest artists—Remi Balduc: alto sax; Donny Kennedy: alto sax; Kiko Osario: Latin percussion.

We'll Be Together Again

Tracks: Serenade to a Bus Seat; Tetragon; Ugly Beauty; I Love You; Fantasy for Trumpet and Jazz Orchestra (Gold / Copper / Silver); Coda; We'll Be Together Again; Blue in Green; I Remember You.

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