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Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia with Pat Martino Trio at the Kimmel Center

Victor L. Schermer By

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Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia with Pat Martino Trio
Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
A String of Pearls
Philadelphia, PA
June 18, 2016

The Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia (JOP) was founded a little over two years ago, under the direction of trumpeter Terell Stafford. Featuring some of the finest Philly musicians, compositions, and trends, it has quickly emerged as a top of the line big band for the city and the region. Their previously held concerts at the Kimmel Center served as showcases for the talent in the band and honored legendary musicians like Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, Bootsie Barnes, and Larry McKenna. The current performance served similar purposes, but it also launched the group as a serious force in the music world. By featuring crack arrangements from the swing era, followed by collaboration with legendary guitarist Pat Martino and his Trio, JOP took a significant step towards defining itself as an exciting, sophisticated organization capable of taking on real challenges.

The first part of the concert was a tribute to swing era and related ensembles from the 1940s to 1970s. This would ordinarily suggest a retrogressive and sentimental tribute, but the use of the arrangements from the original bands, rather than stock charts, and the intention of the band to knock the socks off and revitalize the tradition, made it a thrilling performance with a contemporary flair.

The first set began with the late great Bill Potts' rollicking "Big Swingface," which he composed for the Buddy Rich band. Drummer Steve Fidyk's adherence to Rich's relentless pulse drove the band forward, ably assisted by Lee Smith's solid bass lines and guitarist Greg Kettinger's knowledgeable nuances from the music of that period. Then, going back in time, and using the unforgettable arrangement from the {Glenn Miller}} band, the group captured that iconic style with panache, including a tenor saxophone solo by Chris Farr that resonated with the emotional uplift of the tune. It was a pleasure to hear music that was recorded back then with limited fidelity brought vividly to life in the here and now by a band capable of rich sonorities and sustained drive.

In JOP's performance of the Woody Herman band's classic "Four Brothers," Fidyk again proved his mettle as a swing drummer. Saxophonists Tim Warfield, Farr, Mike Cemprola, and Mark Allen were capable sit-ins for the "four (saxophone) brothers" for whom Jimmy Giuffre composed the tune: Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward, and Serge Chaloff.

The Basie band's iconic rendition of "April in Paris" was performed perfectly to the letter, including Basie's famous shout-out for two recaps of the coda: "One more Time!" and "One More Once!" (It was priceless fun to hear saxophonist Tim Warfield intone those words as if he were having an anxiety attack!) The JOP's flawless rendition nostalgically recalled for this reviewer the time in the 1960s when he heard the incredible Basie ensemble, the so-called "New Testament" band, at Randall's Island Jazz Festival in New York. Trombonist Randy Kapralick caught Benny Powell's inflections on the refrain perfectly, and trumpeter George Rabbai did a delicious take on Thad Jones' trumpet solo.

The group followed up with the haunting ballad, "Early Autumn" (composers Woody Herman and Ralph Burns; lyrics by Johnny Mercer) and the fast-paced Sammy Nestico arrangement for the Basie Band of "Wind Machine," featuring a brilliant solo by Farr.

The JOP further demonstrated their ability to master especially challenging charts with a flawless rendition of Bob Brookmeyer's remarkable arrangement of "Skylark" for the Thad Jones/ Mel Lewis Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Revered alto saxophonist, Dick Oatts, who served in that band, delivered a heartfelt and virtuosic extended solo (really a musical narrative) that deserved and received a standing ovation from the audience. The set concluded with the classic Ellington version of Juan Tizol's "Perdido."

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