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The Cedar Avenue Big Band: Land of 10,000 Licks

Jack Bowers By

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What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago (where has the time flown?) the Cedar Avenue Big Band recorded its first album, Lazy Orange. At the time, it was a rather unpolished ensemble whose weekly gigs at O’Gara’s nightclub in St. Paul, MN, evinced far more earnestness and energy than proficiency. Now comes Land of 10,000 Licks, and wow! What a mind-blowing surprise! To reiterate our opening remark, what a difference a decade makes. Any resemblance between this band and the one that recorded Lazy Orange is all but invisible.

Obviously, the “new” CABB hasn’t spent the last ten years treading water. While some of the sidemen may go back as far as Lazy Orange,, this clearly isn’t the same band as the one that introduced itself on record back in ‘93. Bass trombonist Steve Devich now runs the show, and he must be doing something right, as the band is about as talented as any regional ensemble you’d care to name.

One of the goals on this studio date was to showcase composers and arrangers from the Twin Cities, and aside from two charts by George Stone (“Just One of Those Things,“ “It Might as Well Be Spring”) everything on the album was composed and/or arranged by current or former members of the CABB. The new works, all of which are handsomely drawn, include Devich’s “Double Bogey Blues,” trumpeter John Ahern’s “Merlyn” and “Spanker,” trombonist Jeff Rinear’s “Blue Disclosure,” alto Pete Whitman’s “Dr. No-Know” and alumnus Dean Sorenson’s “Quick Fix.”

Licks opens in an amiable groove with Devich’s bright arrangement of the old Dixieland tune “Angry” (solos by bassist Bruce Heine and tenor Merle Knudson). “Blue Disclosure” provides an ethereal setting for baritone John Zimmerman, trumpeter Greg Lewis, trombonist Mike Haynes and Whitman, while Sorenson’s brisk treatment of Tadd Dameron’s boppish “Tadd’s Delight” spotlights the CABB’s stalwart rhythm section—Heine, pianist Mark Asche and drummer Phil Hey. Knudson has center stage to himself on “It Might as Well Be Spring,” Ahern on “That’s All,” Rinear on J.J. Johnson’s “Lament,” Whitman on “One of Those Things,” trumpeter Kyle Newmaster on George Cables’ buoyant “I Told You So” There’s one vocal, by Twin Cities luminary Bruce Henry on the tongue-in-cheek “Double Bogey Blues.”

For those who are or may be in the Twin Cities area, the Cedar Avenue Big Band still plays each Monday night at O’Gara’s Bar & Grill in St. Paul; for those who aren’t or won’t be, Land of 10,000 Licks is the next best thing to seeing and hearing this superlative group of musicians in person.


Title: Land of 10,000 Licks | Year Released: 2004


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