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Behind the scenes Manny Albam contributed to the books of Charlie Spivak, Count Basie, Woody Herman and Stan Kenton. Like many other arrangers, he was also inspired to strike out on his own and record albums as a leader. This set from Lone Hill Jazz collects his first two sessions as a leader.
The first session, from 1955, collects a large group of prominent musiciansBob Brookmeyer, Billy Byers, Milt Hinton, Urbie Green, and Thad Jones to name a fewfor the typical program of standards and originals. Interestingly, Albam dispenses with the piano, feeling that it makes a group sound smaller. He may have a point; these eight or nine musicians certainly fill up the space.
The arrangements are slightly more daring than one would find on the bandstand of Albam's employers. He features bold counterpoint and imaginative riffs that transform even well-worn standards like "Anything Goes into fresh readings. Albam's originals fit in nicely with the standards, with the moody "Urbanity the only one that threatens to become something a little more special that the Van Huesen and Porter tunes.
For his second release a year later, Albam delves into the realm of concept for the "Drum Suite (again, many arrangers can't resist the lure of something that hints at high art). Each track features the drums prominently through introductions and breaks, and spotlights four jazz drummers. One might think that the overabundance of percussion would weigh down the bandstand, but Albam has carefully arranged each drum part to ensure this doesn't happen (and to be fair, he's working with a much larger orchestra this time that can handle it.) Once again, wonderful players are on hand like Conte Candoli and Al Cohn, all of whom contribute stellar solos while holding down the fort in the ensembles.
Both sessions are a lot of fun, yet lacking in the personality that both Herman and Kenton brought to their music. Albam's work is certainly as deserving of attention as anything else put out by earnest arrangers, and a fine example of big band orchestration from the 1950s.
Track Listing: Anything Goes; Headstrong; Black Bottom; The Changing Scene; The Turning Point; Charmaine; Diga Diga Doo; Royal Garden Blues; Swingin' On A Star; Intermezzo; Ferris Wheel; Urbanity; The Drum Suite: First Movement: Dancers On Drums; Second Movement: Bristling; Third Movement: Chants of the Witch Doctors; Fourth Movement: Skinning the Valves; Fifth Movement: Cymbalisms; Sixth Movement: The Octopus.
Personnel: Manny Albam and His Orchestra: Joe Newman: trumpet; Thad Jones: trumpet (1-12); Conte Candoli: trumpet (13-18); Bob Brookmeyer: trombone (1-12), Urbie Green: trombone; Jimmy Cleveland: trombone (13-18); Al Cohn: alto sax; Milt Hinton: bass (1-12); Osie Johnson: drums; Jimmy Cleveland, Urbie Green: trombone; Al Cohn: alto sax; Hank Jones: piano (13-18); Freddie Green: guitar (13-18); Eddie Costa: vibes (13-18); Don Lamond: drums (13-18); Gus Johnson: drums (13-18); Ted Sommer: drums 13-18).
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.