I don't ordinarily review albums by Armed Services bands, as they aren't for sale or widely available, but I will say a word or two about Jazz Heritage II
by the Air Force Band of the West, as music director Steve Watkins said he'd welcome my comments, and the first word that comes to mind is "Wow!
I've heard Gordon Goodwin's acclaimed Big Phat Band play most of these charts, and even his hand-picked crew of blue-chip Hollywood studio sidemen can't play them appreciably better than this. There's a lot to be said for working together on an almost daily basis, as service bands do, which gives rise to an esprit de corps that one sees in only a handful of ensembles, amateur or pro. The Band of the West (Dimensions in Blue), formed in 1941 and now headquartered at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas, had the further advantage of having Goodwin himself sitting in on the recording sessions, which must have not only inspired the musicians but allowed the maestro to fine tune the charts (one of which, "La Almeja Pequeño, was commissioned for the occasion) and lend them his seal of approval.
Angelo Stokes' thumping tom toms set the pace on "Sing Sang Sung, Goodwin's clever send-up of Louis Prima's crowd-pleaser from the late '30s, preceding vigorous solos by tenor Ricky Sweum and lead trumpeter Nick Cooper. "Pequeño features the band's other tenor, Cody Brown, and Watkins on trumpet; vocalist Crissy Saalborn nails Cole Porter's "It's All Right with Me, and Sweum and guitarist Rick Baisden share solo honors on "A Few Good Men. "Swingin' for the Fences (a.k.a. "Sweet Georgia Brown ) introduces pianist David Lopez and trombonist Mark Hill whose commentary gives way to a spirited tenor duel between Sweum and Brown.
Brown is showcased on the standard "When I Fall in Love, which prefaces four more of Goodwin's exemplary charts"High Maintenance (solos by Brown and trombonist Don Marchand), "Bach 2-Part Invention in D Minor (Lopez, soprano Richard Baum), "Count Bubba (Marchand, Brown) and "There's the Rub (Baisden, Baum on alto). Vocalist Richard Vasquez pinch hits for Johnny Mathis, who appeared on Goodwin's album XXL, and slams one out of the park on the flashy finale, "Let the Good Times Roll.
The ensemble is close-order all the way (dig the death-defying soli by the various sections on "Count Bubba ), the soloists sharp and on target. That's the good news. The not-so-good news, as touched on earlier, is that the album "is for use in public service broadcasting, recruiting, educational activities, troop morale and retention, which is true of every album produced by military bands. So when it comes to measuring the artistry of the Air Force Band of the West, you may have to take my word for it.
Visit the U.S. Air Force Band of the West online for mp3 sound samples.
Track Listing: Sing Sang Sung; La Almeja Peque
Personnel: Gordon Goodwin, composer, arranger; Steve Watkins, music director, trumpet; Nick Cooper, Eric Kawamura, Bill Bjornes, trumpet; Richard Baum, David Malek, alto sax; Cody Brown, Ricky Sweum, tenor sax; Matthew Ayala, baritone sax; Don Marchand, Mark Hill, Heather Kirschner, Jerome Auman, trombone; Tony Hutchins, bass trombone; David Lopez, piano; Richard Baisden, guitar; Jon Packard, bass; Angelo Stokes, drums, percussion; Robert Browning, percussion; Crissy Saalborn, Richard Vasquez, vocals.
Year Released: 2005
| Record Label: Self Produced
| Style: Big Band