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Los Angeles Jazz Institute Festival - Woodchopper's Ball: Part 3-4

Simon Pilbrow By

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The Herman band fired back with "Lolly Pop," by Shorty Rogers and Terry Gibbs, opening with the vintage vocal duet, this time featuring Peplowski and Scott Whitfield, both of whom seemed to be sight-reading the libretto, with great accuracy and plenty of verve. Soloists included an energetic Keith Bishop on baritone sax and a spirited trombone duet/duel between Whitfield and Jacques Voyemant.

The Barnet band returned with "Eugipelliv," by Paul Villepigue, composer/arranger with the 40s Barnet band, the name being his name spelt backwards. Featuring Latin rhythm and sprightly brass section work, the forward-looking 40's Barnet reed- section sound, with soprano saxophone on top, was prominent, Fred Laurence Selden taking the lead and solo honors.

The Herman band continued with Ellington's "I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good," arranged by Shorty Rogers, and showcasing rising star bassist/vocalist Katie Thiroux on the vocal. Ken Peplowski was magnificent on clarinet, with lovely piano accompaniment and solos from Jim Cox, and more fun clarinet obbligatos framing Thiroux's voice on the out-melody. Manny Albam's "Claude Reigns" was the next Barnet band offering, a fast tune, beginning with a capella brass and continuind with unison reeds on the melody. Pianist Brian O'Rourke was the featured soloist, full of bounce and vitality, playing a fun, quite eccentric solo, with energetic block chording, using all his bag of piano tricks to surprise at every turn.

The Herman band hit a winner with Jimmy Giuffre's beloved "Four Brothers." This featured a stellar reed section, and strong solos from Brian Williams, Keith Bishop, Doug Webb and Roger Neumann, with Peplowski 's soaring clarinet, brilliantly-executed ensemble passages and a tight rhythm section. The Barnet band responded with a contrastingly slow ballad, Tiny Kahn's arrangement of Harold Arlen's "Over The Rainbow," with trumpets taking the main melody, handing it to Fred Selden's thoughtful sopranos sax. There was more theatrical block chording from pianist O'Rourke, some strikingly dissonant brass section sounds, leading back to Selden's soprano sax's final melody. The Herman band responded in kind with another cherished favorite, Ralph Burns "Early Autumn." The gorgeous sax section harmonies of the melody were executed with great care. The alto sax bridge, normally played by Woody tipping his hat to Johnny Hodges, was this time played by alto saxophonist Annie Patterson, who instead gave it much more fire and passion, followed by Jim Cox's reflective piano. Wearing the "Stan Getz mantle,' but in no way imitative, was tenor man Roger Neumann, with a luminous tenor solo and cadenza. The two bands combined for a lively jam session on Cherokee, the epochal Ray Noble tune.

Championed by the Charlie Barnet band in the 1940s in a Billy May arrangement, this tune had early captured the imagination of the innovative young saxophonist, Charlie Parker. The possibilities he saw in the chord progression on its bridge, became an epiphany moment in Parker's musical development and in the evolution of modern jazz, Cherokee ultimately becoming essential bebop syllabus, and a tune which most jazz musicians since have cut their musical teeth. It was a fitting inclusion in the original Herman-Barnet encounter of 1949 for the players to spruik their bebop chops, and a welcome all-in blast at this re-enactment, complete with a double rhythm section, and two pianists playing musical chairs. Peplowski launched with the melody, followed by lyrical bebop trumpet fire from Bobby Shew, fleet trombone trades between Whitfield and Voyemant, vigorous tenor from Dave Moody, trading 'fours' from the Herman trumpet section, with Winston Byrd's stratospheric trumpet being particularly memorable. There followed more of Peplowski's bubbling clarinet, the Herman band saxophone 'brothers,' quirky piano trades from Cox and O'Rourke, a chorus of Alan Kaplan's trombone, a Ron King trumpet solo that seemed to drop in from the sky, a bass chorus of Dave Stone and Katie Thiroux soloing and walking alternately, and a raucous band finale, with nearly thirty horns playing the melody in a ragged unison, and a two-drum battle between Matt Witek and Berkowitz on the bridge. After all had drawn breath, the Barnet band played "Bop City," by Kai Winding, arranged by Manny Albam, which was a fast tour-de-force for the band.

Blaring brass introduced a boppy trombone melody, a fiery ensemble bridge, with nice bone harmonies. Passionate solos followed from Kaplan's trombone, Moody's tenor and Rusty Higgins alto sax, before vigorous ensemble work with fiery drum breaks brought it to its conclusion. The Herman band responded at a similar pace with Shorty Rogers "Boomsie," featuring Peplowski's clarinet and unison reeds, with strong solos from himself, Brian Williams on tenor, Keith Bishop's mighty baritone, Jim Cox's energetic piano, Shorty Rogers, and based on another bebop anthem, Morgan Lewis' "How High The Moon." The combined brass sections played the bebop melody line together, with woodwind backgrounds. This was another chance for the players to show their improvising chops, Doug Webb kicking off with two powerful tenor choruses, followed by trombonists Whitfield and Kaplan, trading with each other across the two bands; some feisty Rusty Higgins alto sax, and more strong bass from Katie Thiroux. Representatives from both trumpet sections traded vigorously—Barnet's Bobby Shew and Ron King versus Herman's Jeff Bunnell and Winston Byrd, the latter's pyrotechnics a standout and seemingly done with great ease. After piano trades between Cox and O'Rourke, the combined ensembles were 'all-in' again for some soaring Peplowski clarinet and drum breaks from the Herman band's Matt Witek and the Barnet band's Berkowitz, and it was all over. This was a fitting finale to a fun, two-band stage battle-of-sorts, and the victors were...well, it's not about winning or losing...it's how you play the game...but it is tempting to say that the Herman band probably had the edge on the day.
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