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Ladd McIntosh Big Band: Temptation & Ride the Night Beast

Jack Bowers By

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The Ladd McIntosh Big Band
Temptation
Ride the Night Beast
L.E.M. Records
2004

These albums, recorded side-by-side in December '03, summarize accurately and completely the musical perspective of composer/arranger/orchestrator/bandleader Ladd McIntosh, a man whose heart was given early in life to the Great American Songbook ( Temptation ) but whose unquenchable spirit drives him ever forward, absorbing new forms and techniques and blending them into his singular musical vocabulary ( Ride the Night Beast ).

Even if you've not heard of McIntosh, you've undoubtedly heard his work, as he has spent many years as an orchestrator in Hollywood, scoring more than 85 films including Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek and Shrek 2, Gladiator, Antz, Spy Kids, Pearl Harbor, Chicken Run, Hannibal, The Lion King, Something's Gotta Give, Crimson Tide, The Time Machine, Twister, Home Alone 3, The Italian Job and A League of Their Own. McIntosh currently teaches at the Henry Mancini Institute in Los Angeles, and has published more than a hundred compositions for various ensembles. In his "spare time," Ladd writes and arranges for his standby big band, with whom he has recorded at least four albums since it was formed in 1980.

Before listening to either album, I was sure I'd be more open to Temptation, as I dearly love the time-honored standards. Now, however, I must concede that I'm on the fence. Temptation is by any measure a wonderful album—the charts, choice of material and performance are first-class—but so is Night Beast, a series of captivating originals (including two suites) that clearly allowed McIntosh's creative juices to flow freely. As for the sidemen, they're virtually the same on both dates, so there's no need to make comparisons in that sector. I'm inclined to declare the match a draw and be done with it.

One thing is clear—melody is the mainspring on each album. Every music-lover knows what Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers and Kurt Weill ( Temptation ) can do; what is surprising is the melodic charm of McIntosh's themes, which makes Night Beast an enormous pleasure to hear. The voicings are bright and irresistible, the interplay among brass, reeds and rhythm sharp and invigorating. A marvelous example of this is the cheerful opener, "Rugged Coast," which sports a Latin midsection and an eloquent solo by alto Fred Selden. The unruly "Wild Beast," enlivened by drummer Dick Weller and percussionist Billy Hulting, precedes "The Last Suite Mesa," a four-movement essay dedicated to McIntosh's friend, Grant Wolf. Sal Cracchiolo's flugel is featured on Part 1, Kurt McGettrick's baritone on Part 2. The plainspoken "Guru" is next, followed by the three-movement finale, "Suite Mesa II," with solos by Hulting, Weller, alto Glen Garrett and pianist Geoff Stradling on "Liquor Nips," alto Fred Selden on "I Wanna Watch You...," trumpeter Jon Papenbrook on the playful finale, "Great Times in H.Z."

A swinging version of "I'm Glad There Is You" introduces Temptation, whose title selection, featuring Cracchiolo and trombonist Eric Jorgensen, is up next, followed by Arlen / Johnny Mercer's "Come Rain or Come Shine" (Selden, alto), Ellington's "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good" (McGettrick, baritone) and Benny Goodman / Chick Webb / Edgar Sampson's Swing Era evergreen, "Stompin' at the Savoy." Trumpeter Bob Summers (who has listened closely to the late Conte Candoli) shares blowing space with tenor Jim Snodgrass on "Savoy," alto Garrett and trombonist George McMullen on "I'm Glad There Is You," Snodgrass and pianist Stradling on Rodgers and Hart's "Have You Met Miss Jones?" Jon Crosse is showcased on tenor sax (Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin") and clarinet (Arlen / Ted Koehler's "Ill Wind"). Selden and trumpeter Stan Watkins are out front on Richard Hayman's delightful "Dansero," Watkins and Garrett on Ari Barroso's sunny "Brazil." The finale, Weill's melancholy "September Song," taken at an unusually rapid tempo, is thoroughly captivating, as are the solos by Snodgrass, trombonist Bruce Fowler and bassist Jerry Watts. As on Night Beast, McIntosh's arrangements are exemplary.

Recommending one of these albums above the other presents a formidable challenge, one that has me baffled. If you want to consider one or the other, you'll have to listen carefully and make your own choice. The good news is that either way, you can't go wrong.


Temptation

Track listing: I'm Glad There Is You; Temptation; Come Rain or Come Shine; I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good; Stompin' at the Savoy; Dansero; I've Got You Under My Skin; Ill Wind; Have You Met Miss Jones?; Brazil; September Song (66:59).

Personnel: Ladd McIntosh, conductor, arranger; Fred Seldon, Glen Garrett (1-3, 7-11), Gene Cipriano (4-6), Jim Snodgrass, Jon Crosse, Kurt McGettrick, reeds; Jon Papenbrook, Rick Baptist (2, 8 -11), Stan Watkins, Bob Summers, Sal Cracchiolo, trumpet; Eric Jorgensen, Bruce Fowler, George McMullen, Phil Teele, trombone; Geoff Stradling, piano, synthesizer; Jerry Watts, electric bass; Dick Weller, drums; Billy Hulting (2, 6, 10), percussion.

Ride the Night Beast

Track listing: The Rugged Coast; Ride the Night Beast; The Last Suite Mesa (Taco Tee Shirt / Steaks 'n Beans at Mormon Lake Lodge / Goodbye, Grant / Legacy); Guru; Suite Mesa II (Liquor Nips / I Wanna Watch You . . . / Great Times in H.Z.) (56:20).

Personnel: Ladd McIntosh, conductor, composer, arranger; same personnel. Cipriano (1, 3-6), Garrett (2, 7-10), alto sax; Baptist (2, 7-10), trumpet; Hulting (1-3, 6-10), percussion.

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