Los Angeles Jazz Institute Festival "Big Band Spectacular" 2017, Part 2-4

Simon Pilbrow By

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"Rhizome" (name and spelling unconfirmed) was a fast rhythm-changes-like tune, with a Thad-Jones-like melody played by the ensemble, and a feature for tenor man Dave Thomason, who played two strong solo choruses. Innocence was a charming, playful waltz, featuring two choruses of Elster's piano solo, first with rhythm section alone and then with ensemble backgrounds. Mark Lewis played two fine and mellow flugelhorn solo choruses, before the band went into 4/4 time, and Thomason put in some spirited soloing over a repeated turnaround, before his own solo chorus. Clarinetist Ian Roller took the melody out to the final piano vamp. This was a very attractive tune.

"Diz-Ception" was a fine Huffsteter original, and another fast, swinging 3/4 waltz tune, based upon a short two- note motif. Mike Abraham played a fine, energetic and melodic guitar solo, followed by an exciting soprano sax solo from Ian Roller. A great Kim Richmond flute solo led into a climactic ensemble ending. Melancholia, a Huffsteter tune (not to be confused with the Ellington composition), began with a mysteriously over a Latin rhythmic feel, before Ido Meshulam took the melody on the trombone over a nice flute-muted trumpet background, before playing a sensitive but virtuoso trombone solo accompanied by the rhythm section.

Huffsteter introduced "Night Walk" as his "oldest hit," an attractive, minor Latin tune, playing the melody on his trumpet, leading into a fine trumpet solo, and a playful soprano sax solo from Ian Roller. The final tune that snuck into the program was Huffsteter's "Sneaky," introduced with apologies to Henry Mancini. It opened with Keith Bishop playing a panther-ish bass clarinet ostinato and some stealthy muted trumpet from the leader. Bishop then followed with a gruff but energetic baritone sax solo, and after some playful, cheerful trumpet section work, Kim Richmond played a vigorous alto saxophone solo.

This was a swinging band of great players, playing fine original music. The leader had, as always, an endearing stage manner, with plenty of mild self-deprecation and dry humour.

The Luckman Jazz Orchestra

Veteran saxophonist Charles Owens leads the Luckman Jazz Orchestra, out of the Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Cal State University. They presented a solid menu of long-time classic modern jazz fare, with a deep sense of the music's rich legacy and traditions, into which they were able to inject new life and energy.

They opened with Gerald Wilson's "Viva Torado," and featured some mellow flugelhorn from Winston Byrd, and a piano solo from Lanny Hartley, in which he interspersed flurries of notes with chordal punctuations, before a powerful brass finale. Charles Mingus' much-loved ballad, "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" was a feature for tenor saxophonist Keith Fiddmont, who opened with a solo cadenza before being joined by the saxophone section. He then played a fine, impassioned tenor solo, was joined with the melody by the trumpet section, and then led the closing melody over some nice horn backgrounds. It was a thoughtful tribute to both Mingus and Lester Young.

Horace Silver's funky Latin tune "Nutville" was a flute feature for Charles Owens, joined in the melody by muted trumpets, and then in his solo, which he played with a warm lyricism. The trumpet section played a tricky unison bebop line, before the leader engaged in flute conversation with drummer Mel Lee. The trumpets delivered the return melody, with open and then muted harmonies. Ellington's The Sunset and The Mockingbird featured splashes of Hartley piano with horn backgrounds, Keith Fiddmont on clarinet and fine Hodges-inspired alto saxophone glissandos from Lee Secard, and more tickling, trilling piano. Charles Mingus' "Fables Of Faubus" began with its characteristic gruff, deep baritone riff played by Pablo Calogero, followed by the swinging ensemble rhythms against a marching beat, and then the contrasting and haunting saxophone bridge. Secard gave a fiery, passionate alto solo before a change of pace to a warm trumpet solo from John Thomas. Eddie Harris' "Being Green" (introduced with no reference to being Hibernian or ranine) was a funky eight-to- the-bar tune which featured a fiery, funky tenor solo from Ian Vo, and a rhythmic, equally funky trombone solo from Jacques Voyemant, leading into some punchy brass section work before an energetic conclusion.

This was overall a very enjoyable performance by a spirited, swinging big band, with deep respect for jazz's landmark compositions, and the solo depth and vision to credibly reinterpret and advance them.

Carl Saunders' Bebop Big Band

Trumpeter/composer Carl Saunders has led a strong big band over many years, with a great deal of swing and solo depth, and a broad repertoire that champions many fine but underappreciated composer/arrangers, particularly the late trumpeter Herbie Phillips, with whom Carl worked extensively, and who deserve much wider recognition.

"No Blues in Lugano," by Herbie Phillips, was an easy swinging opener, and began with a unison trombone line, and featured a relaxed but dextrous solo from tenor man Doug Webb and a characteristic lyrical, long-phrased trumpet solo from Saunders. The band played with superb dynamic range, tight but relaxed, over the grooving rhythm section of Christian Jacob, Dave Stone and Jake Reed. Modern jazz staple, "Two Bass Hit," arranged by Larry Dominello, featured the evergreen Bob Efford's bass clarinet and Ron Stout's harmon-muted trumpet, leading into fine solos from Jerry Pinter, tenor, and Bob Efford on two choruses of spirited baritone sax. The arrangement concluded with some effective tandem walking between piano and bass in tenths. "Out of the Past," by great jazz composer Benny Golson, and arranged by Jackson Stock, was a medium tempo, easy-going swinger, with a fluid bebop melody, and featured a muscular, serpentine tenor solo from Jerry Pinter, a fleet trombone solo from Francisco Torres, and a swinging eight bars of bass solo from Stone, before a powerful ensemble shout chorus.

"Getting Sentimental Over You," also arranged by Phillips, showcased Scott Whitfield, with a fluid, swinging trombone solo, with great dexterity and seemingly effortless playing above the upper register, climaxing at the end with a virtuoso trombone cadenza. The band then played another Herbie Phillips arrangement, "I Think I've Got The Blues." This was a slow, rollicking blues, which kicked off with an ensemble blast, the leader taking the melody in unison with the reed section, with the band swinging throughout like the Basie band. A soulful trombone solo from Francisco Torres was followed by a commanding, tough tenor solo from Jerry Pinter, and Bill Holman's arrangement of Jerome Kern's "All The Things You Are" featured Saunders with Stone's bass, and then a two-chorus, brilliant trumpet solo, the leader's phenomenal bebop chops never ceasing. A brassy shout chorus followed and more Saunders' fluent improvising over the turnaround, with quotes of Flight of the Bumble Bee and other trumpet wit.

Two more Herbie Phillips arrangements followed. "Cottonmouth" opened with a call-and-response passage between Saunders and mellow horn backgrounds, then two fiery bebop fiery alto solo from Bruce Babad , more Carl trumpet, all over a very driving rhythm section. Phillips' "Its April," was a charming samba, featuring a marvellous Christian Jacob piano solo, swaggering bebop alto sax work from Brian Scanlon, more Carl trumpet brilliance, fine trombone solo from Kevin Hicks, and another sparkling piano solo from Jacob, repeating saxophone riffs and final trumpet conversations between the leader and the band.

At the conclusion, one was left with no doubt that Herbie Phillips was a tremendous arranger, and that Saunders leads an inspired, virtuoso band that is polished but exuberant, and plays with a relaxed swing.

Film Session: Oop Bop Sh'Bam

Ken Poston continued the Big Band story through the war years, with the eventual influence of the emerging modern jazz of the bebop era. Many big bands that had thrived in the heyday of the late 1930s did not survive the 1940s. Many lost personnel to the war effort, big band swing music as a popular music form waned with the next generation, the economics of touring big bands were increasingly non-viable, and many bands disbanded, some like Count Basie and Goodman re-formed and were able to continue. New big bands arose, deliberately conceived to express bebop in a big band setting, such as that led by Dizzy Gillespie. The swing era bands that did survive had to decide to either preserve their swing era style intact or assimilate some of the small group bebop revolution and modernize. These included Gene Krupa, Elliot Lawrence and Claude Thornhill, incorporating young arrangers like Gerry Mulligan and Gil Evans, and probably most successfully and durably, Woody Herman. Film footage was shows of the Herman, Lawrence, Gillespie, Krupa and Les Brown bands.

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