Conte Candoli had many loves in his life, especially wife Kristen, their “menagerie” (four cats, two dogs, three desert tortoises, assorted chickens and a pond full of fish, turtles and frogs) and a modest but charming home in Palm Springs, CA. Most of all, Conte loved to play the trumpet and would go almost anywhere to do that, in this case Birdland (not in New York City but Neuberg, Germany) where he leads an able–bodied quartet on this lively and engaging concert date recorded in May 2000. The album, released posthumously by Nagel–Heyer Records, serves as a touching reminder of how much was lost when the Count succumbed to cancer last December 14. More than that, it reinforces Conte’s well–earned reputation as one of contemporary Jazz’s most resourceful and eloquent soloists and shows that, less than two months before his seventy–third birthday, he had lost none of the unflagging creative energy on which that reputation was based. That he steps aside on “You and the Night and the Music” to let the trio have its moment in the sun is more a sign of generosity than fatigue, as Conte could blow all night long whenever he had to. And blow he does on the standards “There Is No Greater Love,” “Lover Man” and “Just Friends,” Luis Bonfa’s “Black Orpheus” and one of his own compositions, the buoyant “I Dig Fig,” playing open on “Greater Love,” “Friends” and “Fig,” muted on “Lover Man,” muted and open on “Orpheus.” His companions (pianist Bernhard Pichl, bassist Martin Zenker, drummer Rick Hollander) are sure–handed and responsive, each one an astute improviser in his own right (especially Pichl on “Night and the Music”). As for Conte, if you’ve heard him play I needn’t tell you what to expect but must say that he remained at the top of his game until the end of his life, bequeathing to Jazz lovers an enduring legacy of excellence from his early years as a sideman with Woody Herman (at age sixteen!), Benny Goodman, Chubby Jackson, Charlie Ventura, Stan Kenton and others through his long career as a featured soloist with the Lighthouse All–Stars, SuperSax, the Capp–Pierce Juggernaut, the Tonight Show band, ensembles led by Gerry Mulligan, Terry Gibbs, Shelly Manne and Frank Rosolino, and as leader of his own impressive groups. Live at Birdland may not be the best Candoli on record but it’s plenty good enough. One last thought: any Jazz Hall of Fame without Conte Candoli’s name enshrined is unfinished.
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