Thoroughly enjoyable. Although the live recording venue does him no favors, alto saxophonist Al Belletto - yes, the same Al Belletto whose swinging sextet recorded for Capitol, Bethlehem and other labels in the mid-'50s and '60s - has assembled quite an admirable big band way down yonder in his New Orleans home. Among its sidemen are some of the area's finest mainstream players including drummer John Vidacovich, saxophonists Ray Moore and Frank Mayes, trombonist Rick Trolsen, pianist John Mahoney, and trumpeters Bobby Campo, Jamil Sharif and Erik Jekabson. In this debut session, recorded at cavernous Christ Church Cathedral, the band embarks upon an ambitious program that includes a number of Jazz standards ("Jumpin' at the Woodside," "In a Sentimental Mood," "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," "Satin Doll"), a couple of pop songs ("Pennies from Heaven," "Only the Lonely") and seven lesser-known but engaging originals including Belletto's theme song, "Relaxin'," and Phil Wilson's "Basically Blues." For an example of how well the band plays together, listen to Mahoney's vibrant "No Cares," whose tight ensemble passages would test any ensemble. This one passes easily. And there's more of the same on Bobby Breaux's energetic "Alegria," which closes the session. True, Christ Church is unforgiving, scattering the sound in all directions, but one can hardly blame the band for that - nor for the fact that mics don't always record faithfully each solo passage. It's annoying, but only slightly - certainly not enough to lessen greatly one's pleasure. There's an audience for the opener, "Relaxin'," and for "Alegria," but elsewhere things are as quiet as a (church) mouse -except, that is, for the welcome sound of a purposeful big band putting its shoulder to the wheel. New Orleans has a long and storied tradition of excellence in Jazz; Al Belletto's Big Jazz Band does nothing to tarnish that reputation.
Track listing: Relaxin'; Pennies from Heaven; Basically Blues; Only the Lonely; Jumpin' at the Woodside; Jazznocracy; Come In from the Rain; No Cares; In a Sentimental Mood; Things Ain't What They Used to Be; Serenade to Sweden; Satin Doll; Alegria (66:28).