As one can see from the playlist on this bare-bones recording by the Ben-Oni Orchestra, the California-based ensemble is essentially a repertory band whose focal point is the music of Ellington, Basie, Fletcher Henderson and other Swing Era icons. Half of the ten selections were written by Ellington and/or Billy Strayhorn, another one ("Things Ain't What They Used to Be ) by Mercer Ellington. TwoFrank Foster's "Shiny Stockings, the standard "April in Paris were (and perhaps are) staples in the Basie book, along with Sammy Nestico's arrangement of the classic "Moten Swing. Perhaps to show its versatility, the orchestra rounds out the program with Antonio Carlos Jobim's "The Girl from Ipanema.
In a curious bit of sequencing, the album opens with its only vocal pieces, "Don't Get Around Much Anymore and "Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me, performed by baritone Russel Branch. Branch is earnest enough, but his articulation leaves much to be desired. As for the orchestra, its performance might best be described as workmanlike. I'd guess that all or most of its members are part-timers; even so, they acquit themselves fairly well, in spite of a number of audible missteps, especially among the brass. Throughout, Ben-Oni plays it straight, reading the charts as written and eschewing any personal interpretations. Tempos are generally acceptable, although Strayhorn's "'A' Train isn't quite up to speed.
Soloists are unlisted, and that's just as well, as there are no standouts among them. Neither, on the other hand, are there any who embarrass themselves. Much like the orchestra itself, they are earnest but undistinguished. While it's always good to revisit these exemplary yet time-worn themes, the Ben-Oni Orchestra brings nothing new to the table, and its album would be most appreciated by those who haven't yet heard them (yes, that's a stretch, but surely there must be some who fit that description). Sound quality is acceptable, but please note the LP-like 38:44 playing time.
Track Listing: Don
Personnel: Dr. Curtis Shaw: director, trombone; Ivan Howard, William Mitchell, Mark Wright, Donald
Griggs, Amir-al-Malik: trumpet; David Lichtenstein, Melvin Butts, James Nelson, Anthony
Atherton, Don Bruce: reeds; Marcus Bell, Greg Gomez, Craig Kilby, Gus Greder: trombone;
Ben Ball: keyboards; Tony Senor: guitar; Wesley Johnson: bass; Anthony Pegram: drums;
Bobby Kamal: percussion; Russel Branch: vocals.