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Here’s a dynamic big–band recording that makes those pervasive duo–piano sessions we so often hear pale by comparison. In February ’98, Britain’s BBC and Germany’s RIAS big bands combined forces for an electrifying series of concerts in Dresden, Liepzig and Berlin that left the sold–out houses clamoring for encores. Besides sharing the stage, the ensembles double everyone’s pleasure by performing together on Basie’s “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart,” Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” and the boisterous finale, Ellington’s “Battle Royal.” The bands trade soloists too, with RIAS director/trombonist Jiggs Whigham fashioning an outstanding solo with the BBC ensemble on Gershwin’s “Love Walked In” and flugel Till Brönner even more spectacular on “Secret Love.” The combined ventures work extremely well, as the BBC band is on the left channel in stereo, RIAS on the right. High marks to Whigham and BBC director Barry Forgie for coordinating the production, which must have been far knottier than the finished work would lead one to believe. After the brief opening themes (“RIASessement” and the BBC’s “Ticker”), the bands get down to business with “Woodside,” after which the BBC ensemble performs the classic Bob Florence arrangement of “Body and Soul” (with pianist Andy Vinter sitting in for Bob) and “Secret Love,” RIAS returns for “Daydream” (featuring Whigham’s trombone) and the bands combine for the Ellington medley and “‘A’ Train.” Artie Shaw’s “Back Beat Shuffle” (RIAS) is next, followed by “Love Walked In” and “Sophisticated Lady” (both BBC), Benny Goodman’s “Swingtime in the Rockies” (RIAS) and finally, “Battle Royal.” Complete personnel, alas, are unlisted, but the names of soloists are provided on the tray card. Everyone is fine, with tenors Gary Cox and Walter Gauchel dueling on “Woodside,” Brönner and the BBC’s Mark White manning the trumpet ramparts on “‘A’ Train,” and no less than 15 members of the combined bands soloing in less than seven minutes on “Battle Royal.” In sum, more than an hour of exhilarating music by not one but two world–class big bands, and scarcely a moment of it wasted.
Track listing: RIASessement; Ticker; Jumpin’ at the Woodside; Body & Soul; Secret Love; Daydream; Sing Sing Sing; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore / I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart; Take the “A” Train; Back Bay Shuffle; Love Walked In; Sophisticated Lady; Swingtime in the Rockies; Battle Royal (64:05).
Contact: Doyen Recordings Ltd., The Doyen Centre, Vulcan St., Oldham OL1 4EP, United Kingdom (phone 0161 628 3799; fax 0161 628 0177).
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.