Jack Cortner Big Band / Peter Hand Big Band / Chicago Jazz Philharmonic

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Jack Cortner Big Band
Sound Check
Jazzed Media

For someone who waited so long before taking his first swings as leader of his own big band, Jack Cortner shows again on Sound Check, the band's second impressive recording in as many years, that he's got game. He's also got a bevy of the New York area's leading sidemen to anchor the ensemble, and a superlative featured soloist in longtime friend and colleague Marvin Stamm.

Stamm, whose warm, lyrical trumpet was heard often on the band's earlier CD, Fast Track, solos on every number this time around, a scenario that draws no censure from this quarter. When it comes to fluency and creative power, Stamm never fails to deliver the goods. Nor does Cortner, who arranged every number and wrote two—the blues-centered "Sound Check" and breezy "a la Mode." The Gershwin brothers' "Strike Up the Band" is a powerful curtain-raiser, while Cole Porter's "It's All Right with Me" closes the session on an irrepressibly swinging note.

The band also nails the standards "Speak Low," "Yesterdays" and "You and the Night and the Music," Herbie Hancock's funky "Cantaloupe Island," Juan Tizol's venerable "Caravan," Sergio Mihanovich's "Sometime Ago" and Ennio Morricone's haunting theme from the movie Cinema Paradiso. Although Stamm assumes the lion's share of the blowing space, he is ably reinforced by pianist Bill Mays on five numbers and by trombonist Jim Pugh ("Sometime Ago," "You and the Night"), alto Jon Gordon ("Cantaloupe Island," "a la Mode," "It's All Right with Me") and tenor Dave Tofani ("Yesterdays," "It's All Right with Me"). Mays, bassist Ray Anderson, drummer John Riley and guitarists Jeff Mironov or Jay Berliner comprise an admirable rhythm section.

According to Cortner, he had no plans to record a second album; three cheers for Stamm and other members of the band who persuaded him to change his mind. Based on what Cortner has accomplished on his first two trips to the plate, one can by no means be censured for looking forward eagerly to a third turn at bat.

Peter Hand Big Band
The Wizard of Jazz
Savant Records

The Wizard of Jazz is the renowned Broadway / Hollywood composer Harold Arlen, and this tasteful tribute by the New York-based Peter Hand Big Band was recorded live in 2005, in honor of the centenary of Arlen's birth. The title, of course, refers to Arlen's score (with lyricist E.Y. Harburg) for the Judy Garland classic from 1939, The Wizard of Oz, as well as to the propensity of jazz musicians to adapt and perform so many of his compositions.

The featured soloist throughout is the acclaimed tenor saxophonist Houston Person, whose candid, bluesy style meshes smoothly with Hand's easygoing charts (splendidly played by the ensemble). Even so, this is an all-star band, and there are admirable statements along the way by guitarist Hand; trumpeters Valery Ponomarev, Jim Rotondi and Cecil Bridgewater; saxophonists Don Braden and Ralph Lalama, pianist Richard Wyands, bassist Harvie S, drummer Steve Johns and all the horns on the buoyant, bop-centered "Blue Jug / Harold's Blues" whose playing time is more than eleven minutes.

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