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Mike Vax Big Band: Live... On The Road

Jim Santella By

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Featuring alumni of the Stan Kenton Orchestra and original music in the Kenton style, Mike Vax’s big band recorded Live... On The Road while on tour through Pennsylvania two years ago. A significant number of exciting soloists and fresh musical arrangements make the show quite successful.

What defines the Kenton sound?

These arrangements, created by veterans such as Bill Holman, Kim Richmond, Steve Huffsteter, Joel Kaye and Johnny Richards, feature lush harmony, danceable rhythms with congas on the side, and swinging sectional action. Vax’s trumpet section soars high with energy. His trombone section provides a powerful foundation, and his saxophone section delivers consonant balance.

Many of the arrangements feature the kind of Latin jazz energy that originally put Kenton’s charts in the limelight. Bruce Johnstone’s “Sunrise Lady” roars with happy feet. Steve Huffsteter’s “Espania” introduces intrigue, dramatic poise, and an exotic mood that was born in a far-off land. Kim Richmond’s “Big Sur” fuses high majesty with juxtaposed meters in a romping suite that recalls the magic of Don Ellis.

“MacArthur Park” captures some of the excitement that Maynard Ferguson gleaned with that number a while back. This arrangement features a slow, no-nonsense opening, followed by a rapid- fire second half that eventually settles back into relaxed pleasantries. Compared to Ferguson’s hit, however, the band’s venture pales. Mike Vax steps forward to trumpet his strengths twice on the album. The trumpeter, who worked with Stan Kenton from 1970-72, hasn’t lost an ounce of that old spirit. Nor has the Kenton sound.


Track Listing: Speak Low; Here

Personnel: Mike Vax, leader, trumpet; Dennis Noday, John Harner, Steve Huffsteter, Steve Campos, trumpet; Roy Wiegand, Dale DeVoe, Curtis Fox, Kenny Shroyer, Mike Suter, trombone; Kim Richmond, Pete Gallio, Bob Keller, Bruce Johnstone, Joel Kaye, reeds; Liz Sesler-Beckman, piano; Jim Widner, bass; Gary Hobbs, drums; John Akal, Latin percussion. Also, Dave Detweiler, trumpet; Mark Gruen, bass.

Title: Live... On the Road | Year Released: 2003


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