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The Howard Williams Big Band: Live at the Garage

Jack Bowers By

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Here's an interesting big band release that features some rather spirited blowing and a quite appropriate title. If someone had asked me, sight unseen, where it was recorded, I'd have said, "Probably in a garage. And so it was, hence the name Live at the Garage, which is apparently a nightspot on New York City's Seventh Avenue. More's the pity, as the band—what one can hear of it—is reasonably sharp, boasting a number of local heavyweights in the starting lineup, such as veteran tenor saxophonist Frank Vicari who earned his stripes with Maynard Ferguson's irrepressible juggernauts from the mid-'60s. Others whose names may ring a bell include trumpeters John Eckert, Danny Hayes, and Bill Mobley; alto saxophonist Todd Bashore; and former DIVA stalwarts Virginia Mayhew (tenor) and Karolina Strassmayer (alto).

The leader/pianist is Howard Williams, who obviously has worked hard to put together a respectable ensemble. The ebullience and—unfortunately—the sound (trumpets in particular) are reminiscent of recordings made by the Chubby Jackson Big Band in the late '40s, as is a sizable slice of the material, with vintage compositions by Tadd Dameron, Benny Golson, Ellington/Strayhorn, Wayne Shorter, Thelonious Monk and Thad Jones rubbing shoulders with Antonio Carlos Jobim's "How Insensitive, Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley's "Who Can I Turn To?, T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday and a pair of originals by Williams, "Walter's Tune (co-written with Walter Norris) and "Little Ham Hock.

Hayes is showcased on "Who Can I Turn To?, the moral of which could well be "never try to play a ballad in a crowded garage. He does his best to be heard above the ambient noise, as does vocalist Jan Findlay who bravely carries on the tradition of blues singers Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey and others on "Stormy Monday and Ellington's "Strange Feeling. Vicari, sounding as nimble and chipper as ever, frames a number of likable solos, sharing honors in that department with Hayes, Strassmayer, Mayhew, Bashore, baritone Lou Caputo, trombonists Don Mikkelson and Roy Agee, and trumpeters Mobley (noticeably off-mic) and Jon Owens. The solo order isn't always accurate, and there are a number of spelling errors on the hand-written tray.

To sum up as clearly as possible, in words of one syllable—good band, poor sound. I've heard that Williams plans soon to record a second album (if he hasn't already done so). When that happens, the hope is that he will move the enterprise from garage to living room, or at least to the patio.


Track Listing: If You Could See Me Now; How Insensitive; Stormy Monday; Fair Weather; Who Can I Turn To?; Walter

Personnel: Howard Williams: leader, piano. Tracks 1,2,4-6,8,9,11 -- Todd Bashore: alto, soprano sax, flute; Karolina Strassmayer: alto sax, flute, clarinet; Frank Vicari: tenor sax, flute; Virginia Mayhew: tenor, soprano sax, clarinet; Lou Caputo: baritone sax, bass clarinet; John Eckert, Jon Owens, Danny Hayes, Bill Mobley: trumpet; Bob Suttmann, Roy Agee, Don Mikkelsen: trombone; Max Siegel: bass trombone; Roy Cumming: bass; Rudy Petschauer: drums. Tracks 3,10 -- John Simon: tenor sax, for Mayhew; Joe Grandsen: trumpet, for Eckert; Brad Schmidt: trombone, for Agee; Dale Turk: bass trombone, for Siegel; Eliot Zigmund: drums, for Petschauer; Jan Findlay (3): vocal. Track 7 -- Jeff Burke: alto sax, for Bashore; Mike Karn: tenor sax, for Mayhew; Steve Wiseman, John Hines, Kurt Weiss: trumpet, for Eckert, Owens, Hayes; Brad Schmidt: trombone, for Mikkelsen; Findlay: vocal.

Title: Live at the Garage | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: HW Records

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