The Chicago Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra’s first recording ( Live and Screamin’, a concert date from October–November ’97) was so impressive the thought here was that only a “labor of love” could possibly equal or surpass it. Well, the millennium has arrived, and with it the CMJO’s Labor of Love, and if the band’s second excursion can’t eclipse the flash and excitement of Screamin’, it comes close often enough to dissuade any reproval. As usual, the CMJO’s repertoire is conspicuously inspired by the Stan Kenton library with splendid charts written for Kenton’s orchestra by Gene Roland (“Reuben’s Blues”), Dave Barduhn (“Send in the Clowns”), Marty Paich (“My Old Flame”), Lennie Niehaus (“All of Me”), Willie Maiden (“A Little Minor Booze”) and Bill Holman (“Out of Nowhere,” “Malaguena”). The session’s midsection accommodates tasteful arrangements by John Kornegay (“Just Friends”), Tom Matta (“My One and Only Love”), Don Menza (“Take the ‘A’ Train”), Jerry Nowak (“When Sunny Gets Blue”) and the CMJO’s superb lead trumpeter, Kirk Garrison (Frank Catalano / Hary Kozlowski’s “Samba da Yo”). Personnel has changed to some extent; gone from the earlier recording are such standout soloists as trumpeters Joey Tartell and Terry Connell, tenor saxophonist Mark Colby, trombonist John Mose and pianist Don Stille. Stepping into their shoes in commendable fashion are Garrison, tenors Catalano and Bryan Murray, trumpeters Ben Clark and Randy Kulik, altos Chris Sarlas and Gary Parker, trombonist Kozlowski and young pianist Mike Flack (Garrison, Catalano, Kulik, Kozlowski and Sarlas also performed on Live and Screamin’ ). Drummer Michael Fiala is a first–rate dep for Charlie Braugham and Bob Chmel, who shared those duties on Live and Screamin’. Murray is showcased on “Just Friends,” Kozlowski on “My One and Only Love,” rising star Catalano on “Out of Nowhere.” Another bright new addition is Mrs. King, vocalist Joni, whose lucid soprano is heard to good advantage on “All of Me” and “When Sunny Gets Blue” (with marvelous support from the ensemble on both numbers). The CMJO opens with a clear–cut winner, Roland’s shuffling “Reuben’s Blues” (whose walking intro by bassist Anthony Brock paves the way for persuasive ad–libs by Garrison and Catalano). In a similar vein is Maiden’s “Minor Booze,” whose understated but effective solos are by Flack, Parker and Kulik with searing high–note passages courtesy of Garrison. The arrangements of “My Old Flame,” “Send in the Clowns” and “Malaguena” are widely seen as classics, while Menza’s dynamic treatment of Billy Strayhorn’s “‘A’ Train” (fueled by Flack’s romping piano intro) hurtles along that track as well. Catalano shows on “Nowhere” that he’s going somewhere (while the CMJO shows it has power to spare), and Murray proves an able counterpart on “Friends.” Although nothing can match the heart–stopping spontaneity of a live recording, the CMJO has fashioned a remarkably colorful studio session with enough sparkle and fire to earn the admiration of even the most demanding big–band enthusiast.
Track listing: Reuben’s Blues; Send in the Clowns; Just Friends; My Old Flame; All of Me; My One and Only Love; Take the “A” Train; When Sunny Gets Blue; Samba da Yo; A Little Minor Booze; Out of Nowhere; Malaguena (56:17).
Lenny King, leader; Chris Sarlas, Gary Parker, alto sax; Ken Kistner, alto, baritone sax; Bryan Murray, Frank Catalano, tenor sax; Kent Lawson, baritone sax; Kirk Garrison, Jim Peterson, Nate Walcott, Ben Clark, Randy Kulik, trumpet; Hary Kozlowski, Mark Corey, Michael Joyce, Steve Larkin, trombone; John McAllister, bass trombone, tuba; Mike Flack, piano; Anthony Brock, bass; Michael Fiala, drums; Al Keeler, Jerry Steinhilber, Latin percussion.
Contact: Chicago Lakeside Jazz, P. O. Box 1952, Lombard, IL 60148 (phone 630