A friend told me this album was a reissue of one released nearly a decade ago (IRS 986.987), and at first glance he would seem to be right, as there are striking similarities in the artwork, choice of repertoire (the nine selections are identical, although the playing order is slightly dissimilar) and soloists (exactly the same on both albums). The newer album, however, has something the earlier one clearly did not have — an audience. It was taped July 3, 1993, at the Liederhalle in Stuttgart, about a week after the IRS album was recorded at the SDR Studios, also in Stuttgart (SWR, then known as the SDR Big Band, was the immediate successor to Erwin Lehn’s world–class forty–year–old Jazz orchestra). The rehearsal time and studio date must have agreed with the SWR ensemble, as it cruises easily through Holman’s formidable charts without revealing even the slightest whisper of stress or disquietude. Four of the songs are Holman’s, the others masterworks by Frank Rosolino (“Blue Daniel”), Thelonious Monk (“Bye–Ya”), Tadd Dameron (“If You Could See Me Now”), Sonny Rollins (“St. Thomas”) and Charlie Parker (“Marmaduke”). “Marmaduke” is the shortest track at 5:48; Holman always gives the soloists plenty of breathing room, and they make the most of every measure. Several of Holman’s arrangements have since shown up elsewhere: “Bye–Ya” on the album Brilliant Corners (JVC 2066), “A View from the Side” and “Any Dude’ll Do” on A View from the Side (JVC 2050), “St. Thomas” on The Bill Holman Band (JVC 3308). Those all–star studio sessions, even though crammed with well–known West Coast sidemen, are no more admirable than this one, performed without a net for paying customers. “Gonzo,” named for a perpetually drunk and / or stoned journalist of Holman’s acquaintance, is no easy read, but the SWR ensemble is clearly up to the task, as are soloists Klaus Wagenleiter (piano), Jürgen Seefelder (tenor sax) and Karl Farrent (flugelhorn). The shuffle–grooved “Any Dude’ll Do” showcases baritone saxophonist Rainer Heute and one of the long–time mainsprings of Lehn’s orchestra, lead alto Bernd Rabe, while trombonist Ernst Hutter and guitarist Klaus–Peter Schöpfer are the protagonists on the bluesy r&b–influenced “Sometimes.” Rosolino’s best–known composition, the lovely waltz “Blue Daniel,” wraps impressive ensemble work around bright solos by Farrent and alto Klaus Graf. The vastly underrated trumpeter Don Rader, who now lives in Australia, was a member of the SWR band in ’93, and he is featured prominently on four of the last five numbers starting with “Bye–Ya” and including “St. Thomas,” “Marmaduke” and his ballad signature, “If You Could See Me Now.” The other soloists are trombonist Ludwig Nuss and bassist Thomas Stabenow (“Bye–Ya”); Stabenow, Wagenleiter, tenor Andy Maile and drummer Jörg Gebhardt (“St. Thomas”); Nuss, Stabenow and Seefelder (“Marmaduke”). Nuss, Farrent and Wagenleiter share the solo space on “A View from the Side.” The SWR’s rhythm section (Wagenleiter, Schöpfer, Stabenow and Gebhardt) is superb throughout. Favorite tracks? “Any Dude’ll Do,” “Blue Daniel,” “Bye–Ya,” “St. Thomas” and “Marmaduke,” although the others are so well–matched that one hesitates to single any of them out for undue praise. A truly spectacular concert from start to finish, one that definitely belongs in everyone’s big–band library — even those who already have the studio album on IRS.
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