Some musicians, it seems, can't avoid notoriety and praise, while others, equally talented, somehow manage to fly under the radar. Trumpeter Dave Stahl is a notable member of the second group, earning no mention in the All Music Guide to Jazz in spite of having recorded at least three splendid albums dating back to 1987. He's not profiled in the Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz either, but does warrant a brief paragraph in the New Grove Dictionary, in which it is disclosed that he played lead trumpet with the Woody Herman Herd (1973-75) and the Count Basie Orchestra (1975-80). While no one can accuse Stahl of not blowing his own hornhe does that about as well as anyonefew people seem to have been listening. Perhaps Stahl's newest album, Live at the Ritz, will help change that. Let's hope so, as it is hip and impressive from end to end.
Stahl is a devoted admirer of fellow high-note maestro Maynard Ferguson, and his band is most reminiscent of MF s broad-minded ensembles from the mid-'70s, the ones that introduced aspects of rock, funk and pop to reinforce the indispensable jazz component. This is most evident on such tunes as Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me, Chester Thompson's skitterish "Squib Cakes, and to a lesser extent on Joe Zawinul's oft-ridden warhorse, "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. All three were smartly arranged by chief writer Todd Fronauer, as was everything else on the album save "Stars Fell on Alabama, the second of Stahl's trumpet features (the other is Lionel Bart's "As Long as He Needs Me").
Fronauer, who also wields a mean valve trombone, wrote four of the concert's stellar numbers, "First Bite, "The Concubine, "Checking for Bees and "What on Earth, adapted "Needs Me and "Sun from charts by Keith Mansfield and Jay Chattaway, and arranged João Pernambuco's lyrical "Love of a Rose and Clare Fischer's sensuous "Pensativa.
One needs a resourceful drummer to supervise a program such as this, and Stahl has one in Lew Leabman, as well as an astute reed section supervisor in alto saxophonist Dave Shultz. Stahl doesn't play lead trumpet, leaving that in the capable hands of Craig Kenney, but, like Maynard, is never far removed from center stage, nailing an array of improbable high notes and sculpting remarkable solos on every number. Fronauer, Leabman and Shultz add thought-provoking statements, as do tenors Steve Fieldhouse, Dan Hoover, and Howard Boots; trombonist Dale DeVoe, trumpeter Bob Stoyko, baritone Vic Wertz, pianist Mike Moran and bassist Rob Cochran.
Stahl does one more thing that other bandleaders should consider. He talks to the audience, naming soloists and saying a few words about the songs that are being played. Don't know about you, but I appreciate that. Of course, there's much more than that to appreciate, as Stahl and his band knock themselves out to present a colorful and exciting concert. Sound quality is first-rate, 71:46 playing time exemplary. Warmly recommended.
First Bite; As Long as He Needs Me; The Concubine; Don
Dave Stahl, trumpet, flugelhorn, leader; Craig Kenney, Dave Buffington, Bob Stoyko, Dave Brumbaugh, trumpet, flugelhorn; Dave Shultz, alto, soprano sax; Steve Fieldhouse, Howard Boots (1-5), Dan Hoover (6-11), tenor sax, flute; Vic Wertz, baritone sax, flute; Dale DeVoe, Scott Rhoads, trombone; Todd Fronauer, valve trombone, composer, arranger; John McKelvey, bass trombone; Mike Moran, piano; Rob Cochran, acoustic, electric bass; Lew Leabman, drums.
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