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Los Angeles Jazz Institute Festival - Woodchopper's Ball: Part 2-4

Simon Pilbrow By

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Los Angeles Jazz Institute Festival "Woodchoppers' Ball"
Four Points by Sheraton at LAX
Los Angeles, CA
May 23-27, 2018

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Concert 4: Keen and Peachy: Music of the Woody Herman Second Herd -Directed by Michael Berkowitz

Woody Herman's Second Herd was one of the most exciting bands of early modern jazz, and achieved a high level of performance as it translated much of the modern language of jazz—rhythmically, harmonically—and the virtuosity required of ensemble and soloist, into an exciting big band sound and style. During the introduction, mention was made of the importance of the arrangers such as Shorty Rogers, Ralph Burns, without whom the textures and harmonies of this nascent modern big band could not have been realised. Michael Berkowitz led a sterling big band lineup to deliver a well-chosen sampling of the music of this historic group.

The band opened with Johnny Mandel's fast-tempo, "Not Really The Blues," and Harry Allen launched into a blistering tenor solo, followed by a feisty trombone solo from Paul Young. The trumpet section tore into a brilliant upper register unison passage, before a Woody-ish clarinet solo from Ken Peplowski, some crescendo brass section work before trumpeter Jeff Bunnell was skyrocketed into an all-too-brief, upper register solo. "The Great Lie" showcased pianist Josh Nelson in some fleet, upper treble tremolos and block chords, followed by engaging solos from trombonist Scott Whitfield, and Herman alumni tenor saxophonist Roger Neumann and trumpeter Mark Lewis.

Ralph Burns' "Lady McGowan's Dream" was a feature for the lead alto sax of Jerry Pinter who took the melody and then played a vigorous alto solo that began seductively and became increasingly bold and swaggering. Lovely ensemble passages with Ron Stout, a haunting, full-bodied tenor solo from Neumann, returning to Pinter's bold alto for the final melody. "Keen and Peachy," Burns' and Rogers' reworking of "Fine and Dandy," took off with the reed section carrying the catchy melody and unison lines with feisty brass punctuations. Solos followed in quick succession from Ken Peplowski's fleet tenor, Whitfield's lively trombone, Adam Schroeder's fast, gruff baritone, Allen's ebullient tenor, and Jerry Pinter's big-toned tenor. "Sidewalks of Cuba," another Burns arrangement, began with its unison reed lines and brass blasts, kicking off an exuberant trumpet solo from Mark Lewis, a cheerful boppy piano solo from Nelson, and soaring clarinet from Peplowski, and more hearty ensemble work from the band. The up-tempo, swinging "Keeper Of The Flame," another Rogers original, gave way to imaginative solos from Schroeder, Nelson, Pinter and Young, before a powerful, upper register trumpet solo from Mark Lewis. "Down Under," composed by Dizzy Gillespie for the Herman band and recorded in 1942, is a remarkable early bebop offering from the trumpet giant, taken at a medium- fast tempo, with low register unison melody with the sax section and Dave Stone doubling the melody on bass. It featured Peplowski's clarinet soaring in the upper register, and incisive solos from Neumann's bluesy tenor and Lewis' fiery trumpet.

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